‘De protodood in zwarte haren’ starts off in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia. Fictional early 20th century Spanish/Dutch painter Pieter van der Laan (aka Pedro) lives with his parents and the Segovia family, who own a small wine company. After both families fail to pay their debts to a loan shark, they are brutally butchered inside their home.
Pedro, who was out painting orchards when the massacre took place, finds his family and flees towards the North. On a train to Bobadilla he meets Béatrice Charron: a charming, yet deceitful young woman. Béatrice convinces Pedro to join her and her husband on their journey towards Paris, France. Charles Charron, Béatrice’s husband, is a rather unintelligent drunk, who is largely unaware of his wife’s flirtatious behaviour towards Pedro.
The threesome take a short break in the city of Toledo, famous for its medieval cathedral. Inside the cathedral, Pedro discovers a work by 16th century Mannerist painter El Greco (1541-1614), whose estranging work is often seen as an important precursor to modern art. Pedro has a spiritual epiphany as he approaches the painting inside the sacristy: the dynamic depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ seems to have a life of its own. This experience, Pedro’s first real life encounter with abstraction, seems to plant a seed inside his confused mind. From this moment on, Pedro is bound to gravitate towards the unknown, and unintentionally enters a world of unquenchable desire and both sexual and artistic transgression.
Pedro, Béatrice and Charles Charron have arrived in Paris, France. As Charles Charron goes out on nightly drinking binges, Pedro visits Béatrice and paints her as she sits naked on her luxurious couch. Béatrice attempts to seduce Pedro in a rather aggressive manner, but Pedro does not make love to her, for he is frightened by her behaviour. He goes back to his Montmartre hotel room to be alone.
In Paris, Pedro meets Claire Sophie Petit, whom he lovingly calls Chauchat. She is a beautiful, innocent Wallonian poet, who resides in the same hotel. Pedro almost instantly falls in love with her and banishes Béatrice Charron from his mind.
Chauchat introduces Pedro to Piet Mondriaan, who lives in the city. The artists visit L’Effort Moderne, the famous art gallery, owned by Léonce Rosenberg. Pedro also manages to get his hands on several copies of De Stijl and a manifest by Kazimir Malevich; the founder of Suprematism, a Russian abstract art movement.
Pedro reads the literature that has been given to him with a tremendous fury. He is particularly obsessed with Malevich’s Black Square (1915), which is often described as the absolute zero point of painting. The painting, depicting a black square on a white background, is a gaping abyss. To Pedro, it is a creative void; a portal to the unknown regions of the subconscious mind. As he draws back into his hotel room, Pedro fantasizes about Chauchat, whose quiet, mysterious ways allow him to form an image of immaterial perfection in his mind, where art and life intertwine and are gradually distorted by abstraction.