During The Pandemic, This Artist Discovered Goddess Power

Karla Peterson The San Diego Union-Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Karla Peterson reports, "During the pandemic, [Jody] Abssy began painting large portraits of ancient female deities from around the world. By the time she wrapped things up late last month, Abssy had completed more than 30 portraits. 

San Diego

While many of us have spent the last year living in our small pandemic bubbles, not all bubbles are created equal. Some are accessorized with pets. Others sport sourdough starters. Some have morphed into indoor gyms. Or classrooms. Or crazy craft centers.

Then there is Jody Abssy's home art studio, where she was alone, but never lonely. Because the goddesses were there.

During the pandemic, Abssy began painting large portraits of ancient female deities from around the world. By the time she wrapped things up late last month, Abssy had completed more than 30 portraits. Her pandemic project had become a real passion, and the feeling was mutual.

"Each of the goddesses has her own personality, so I always felt like there was someone out in my studio waiting for me," the Kensington resident, 81, said during a recent phone interview. "Sometimes I would go to bed at night, and I would hear a voice saying, 'You're not going to leave my eye like that, are you?' I felt like I had company out there."

And now, the goddesses have come to Balboa Park.

Abssy's "Gather the Goddesses" exhibition is on display at the Gallery 21 in Balboa Park's Spanish Village Art Center through March 21. The exhibit — which features 30-plus large-scale portraits of ancient and contemporary goddesses — was inspired by an earlier Abssy painting of a group of 50 goddesses. When the pandemic hit, she decided to use the research she had done already and the time that was stretching before her to give these mythic women their artistic due.

"Doing that (first) painting made me think that I wanted more female energy in the world, and my way of doing that is through art," said Abssy, who is a docent at the Mingei International Museum and an art teacher.

"With COVID, I was stuck. I had no more meetings, no more docent-ing and no more teaching. I realized that with this pause in my life, this was the time to do it."

The 24-by-36 acrylic paintings portray goddesses from a world of cultures captured in all of their mythic glory. There is the Celtic warrior goddess Andraste, wielding her shield under the watchful eyes of wild animals.

There is a Mayan goddess paired with an Indigenous Mexican woman. There is the celestial Apsara from Buddhist and Hindu culture, the West African supreme deity Nana Buruku, and the Finnish forest goddess, Mielikki, who is pictured wearing an elk-antler crown with a great horned owl perched on top.

The goddesses who inspired Abssy are larger than life, but she sees their strengths reflected in women everywhere. That is part of their power, too. "I really feel that a goddess has the same attributes that any woman has, but amplified," Abssy said from Gallery 21, where she was fielding goddess-related questions from a steady stream of visitors.

"Maybe it's courage. Maybe it's erotic power. Maybe it's mercy. That is why they appeal to me. The fact that they are revered and remembered in festival days and in shrines, and that they are known in different cultures, that interested me. There is all of this energy in the world that isn't always recognized to the extent that I thought it should be."

Abssy's goddess project also reflects a life filled with art, culture and a lot of travel.

A native of New York, Abssy earned a bachelor's degree in Russian from Northwestern University and a master's degree in Slavic Studies from Brown University. She also studied art. And after Abssy and her husband spent years traveling the globe for his job, the couple settled in Toronto and Abssy began a long career as a high-school art teacher. The couple moved to San Diego more than a decade ago.

As a teacher, Abssy had the joy of introducing her students to sculpting, drawing, painting and photography. She also had the privilege of learning how to listen to whatever her inner artist needed to say.

"Students just do art. They just do it. That is what I learned, particularly from the younger students," said Abssy, whose works include sculptures; quilts, banners and rugs; portraits and abstract paintings; and murals. "We think so much, and we make all of these considerations about everything, but oftentimes, the art leads you, and you just have to let it do that." And so it is with the goddesses.

After guiding Abssy through a stressful time, these mythical women are still with her. When you have goddesses in your life, there is always plenty of magic to go around.

"When I was doing this, I learned how much it meant for me to have the opportunity to paint. And I'm still painting. Toward the end, I discovered that many cultures had moon goddesses. To me, the idea that the moon is a shy woman in many cultures is such a beautiful idea. So now I'm painting a variety of moon goddesses.

"Who knows? This may never end." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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