Muralist's New Work Explores Womanhood, Pain, Mythology

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Susan David is known as a compelling muralist whose work can be found across Lafayette and Louisiana.

Using distinct line work and interesting subject matter, David has propelled herself into the spotlight of local artists. Her newest mural was unveiled at the Hillard Art Museum recently. This immersive art experience invites audiences to explore pain, womanhood, and mythology together.

The exhibit “Leviathan” looks at the sea creature from a religious and semi-political point of view. Historically, Leviathan has appeared in several religious texts including the Book of Enoch, Tanakh, and The Holy Bible. These three books were originally written in Hebrew and acknowledge Leviathan as a monster of the sea.

Across the books, the creature takes on several meanings with varied appearances. The description closely related to David’s piece comes from the Jewish Book of Enoch where Leviathan is a female monster living in the watery abyss. She is the female counterpart to Behemoth and is known for causing chaos.

When David was approached to do an installation her first thought was “Will it be indoors?” followed by “What will I create?”

After being presented with the concept of Leviathan the wheels began to turn. Her creative process changed earlier this summer when headlines across the nation marked a Supreme Court decision on abortion.

“The first iterations of where I was going with the mural was using a squid as the Leviathan,” David explains. “I’d send in the image and I was like, ‘This is it, this is the drawing’ and it was an image of this large squid and had a man wrapped in its tentacles with a woman floating above. And then there was a day that occurred about two months ago, where the government made a big change. And I was not...not happy.”

That moment changed the course of her artwork and she wanted to showcase her emotions alongside the concept of this sea creature. The story she chose to portray Leviathan involves the monster as a mother. She is killed in the process of saving her children. This is one of the many stories of creation. After she is killed her body is said to become the earth.

The feeling behind the mural also closely aligns with the famous book by Thomas Hobbes titled “Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil.” This book is an examination of government viewed as Leviathan.

Once she had a clear picture in her mind of what she wanted to create she started to draw. Concept artwork can be seen at the beginning of the exhibit including the first sketches.

Murals are unique compared to many other mediums of art because of the space allotted. Understanding scale and shape has been a huge factor in creating art for David.

“What I’ll do is I’ll get my image,” she explains. “Then I’m like, ‘Okay, is this gonna work?’ And I’m not going to put it down on paper until I really feel like I’ve resolved the whole image. So if I haven’t dealt with the (empty) space, a lot of times that is where I use new tracing paper, to lay over it. This allows me to deal with the other elements. And you can see it downstairs with the mural.

“The figure was drawn first, then I was like, ‘Okay, well, I’ve got this figure now. But I have this huge wall that I have to address. How can I do it? How does she work in there? How does she define the space?’ So I thought about shapes, and I drew different types of shapes and did rectangles and circles and squares, and I settled on the diamond shape with the stripes.”

The massive mural took more than a week to bring to life in the gallery.

Hillard Museum curator Ben Hickey and David wanted the viewer’s experience of the gallery to be immersive. They achieved that by lowering the lights in the main gallery, adding colored lights to the mural, and playing ocean sounds throughout the space.

At the entrance, you will find an artist’s statement on the work and concept art of her creative process.

Leviathan will be on display through Jan. 7 at the Hillard Museum located at 710 East St. Mary Blvd. in Lafayette.