“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he was limping on his hip…”The enigmatic encounter between Jacob and the mysterious assailant always was, for me, one of the most evocative in the Bible. It is a scene of extreme loneliness, of threat and destruction, yet it is also the birth of identity and the beginning of the re-creation of self. Penuel is inspired by the enigmatic encounter between Jacob and the mysterious assailant in Genesis 32: 24-31, a scene of extreme loneliness and of transformation. The series is a meditation on the inextricable link between the threat of destruction and the birth of identity, the liminal space of death and rebirth. Initially, I was drawn to Genesis’s account of the primal struggle in Penuel as a way of meditating upon what it meant to be transformed from Jacob to “Israel”, but in the course of working on the series, the nature of the ambiguous foe became multifarious. The works became a struggle with God, with fear, with art, with the paintings themselves. And, as Gerard Manley Hopkins says in a poem inscribed in many of the works, the assailant is always oneself. This series is ongoing.
(Genesis, 32: 24-31)