In the center of Genesis stands the towering figure of Noah, the compositional anchor around which all else revolves. Lebrun referred to Noah as a "rock under cascades of surf...a fortress, a shelter, a protective paternal figure." The Flood now over, he embraces a child in his ragged, yet monumental, cloak. His massive head, derived from studies of seaweed and dried yucca plants, is bent and his body offered as shelter for mankind. The ribs of the battered Ark surround Noah just as Noah himself encloses the child, and the lines of the child's wrappings in turn echo the forms of the exposed ribs.
Although Noah catches the eye first, it is the joined figures of Adam and Eve, their backs to us as they depart Paradise, that lead us into the mural. The two face each other, their heads together--Lebrun imagined an Adam and Eve intertwined by God, wanting to "make the figure itself change into itself."
Directly above Adam and Eve, as if emerging from their heads, are their children, Cain and Abel, their bodies molded into a single, heavy figure. The decision to meld the two brothers into one form reflects Lebrun's belief that Cain and Abel represent two different aspects of a single character and his rejection of facile contrasts of good and evil. "The notion of creating the victim and the murderer and of separating moral values is detestable to me," he said, "Too easily one can connect the guilt with Cain and the virtue with Abel...I found I wanted to unite the two."
Above Cain and Abel, the rounded lunette (the crescent shaped area at the juncture of wall and ceiling) depicts Sodom and Gomorrah; this is the only part of Lebrun's composition not visually confined by the boundary between the lunette and main wall. Three bodies, arranged like the spokes of a wheel, appear to burst from the space as they plummet downward, their fall symbolic of judgment and retribution. Lebrun's source for these mutilated figures was recently published photographs of a burial pit at Buchenwald, the German concentration camp. The lunette's shape reminded Lebrun of this horrific "funnel-like pit," and he captures here the terrible piling up of bodies, limbs overlapping, individual figures no longer distinguishable.
The figure of Job in the opposite lunette, the only character not drawn from the book of Genesis, has similarly somber origins. Lebrun called him the "Hiroshima Job" and added, "With the Job...I wanted to have something more pertinent to what we have gone through recently...I want him rebellious, I want him looking up and dumbly asking 'why is this happening to me?'" Traditionally shown in a bent and passive posture suggesting resignation, this Job is an anguished crippled figure that reaches upward in despair. In stark contrast to Noah, who symbolizes the renewal of life and hope, Job represents the horrors to which humanity is subjected.
Finally, there are the figures of the Flood, rejected by God, struggling in vain against the rising waters, climbing over one another in a desperate attempt to cling to the Ark. Lebrun explained that these forms were based on memories of the Santa Ynez river in Mexico in flood: "We kept finding in ravines leftovers of this flood, and I remember a huge assembly of broken trees that were twisted and weathered...the water had a terrific power...strong tree trunks had been bent by the force...They had resisted a great deal of angular breaking...[and were] almost like a backbone. Scooped out roots...look[ed] like pelvis shapes." At the bottom of the pillar of bodies, behind a great floating figure, a woman's body assumes a hard shape like that of rock ledges. The topmost figure grasps the Ark, his sinews and muscles defining the taut curve of a backbone derived from a fragment of a whale's backbone. Lebrun's interest in the blending and transfiguration of forms finds full expression in these three monumental figures that seem to evolve from one another. Together, they represent the onset of the cataclysm of which Noah is the triumphant conclusion, thus bringing us full circle.