When most people hear the name Isaac Newton they automatically summon forth images of apples falling out of trees and landing on the head of a scientific genius with a huge wig that could rival any member of the rock band Kiss. However, he was an extremely complex dude. Being the epic nerd I am, I have always been fascinated with the work that Newton did which didn’t make it into the history books. Mainly, his alchemy.
It was a little-known fact that the man who is credited as being the father of modern chemistry was secretly pursuing and writing in the realm of medieval mystical arts. But he was. When he died, his home was filled with stacks and stacks of papers he had written on the subject, dwarfing the already impressive amount of scientific publications he had already produced over the course of an honorable career. It should probably come as no surprise that the classic chemistry lab is always reminiscent of an alchemist’s workshop.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding about alchemy. Most people know that bit about turning led into gold. However, there was a lot of other more practical changes done in alchemy as well. Basically, alchemy is all about change. It was for lack of a better description, chemistry. Of course this is chemistry a couple hundred years before the actual development of the periodic table of the elements. So when formulas and info are passed between two practitioners of this art, it is done so in a more coded visual method. This method is in the form of transmutation circles.
A transmutation circle is a circle that is usually filled with three to five smaller circles and with either a triangle or circle in the middle. The outer circles contain the primary substances that are being combined. One of these circles is devoted to expressing the catalyst for the change. A catalyst is usually fire. This catalyst brings about a new substance, which is usually depicted in the center. At least one other outer circle is devoted to notations, which are usually encrypted in some way or another.
I began painting with an intention of reflecting both chaos and change that was constantly happening in my own personal life. I like working with both abstract and figurative images. However, I wanted to discuss more with my images. I needed a visual language to embed more than just the emotions that are present on the surface of my work. I chose to incorporate elements of alchemy into the art. There are always universal elements represented by their alchemy counterparts. There is always a catalyst, usually fire to show that even in human spiritual transformation, there is always something that catalyzes it. The human figure or figures are shown in slightly larger circles to show the result of elemental combinations. And it is that simple.
The second more covert reason I chose to incorporate alchemy imagery was not just because it makes for good design elements, but also as a means of opening up dialog. I have a multitude of friends and family that are of the evangelical persuasion. I wanted to created dialog with them about the church’s attitude towards artists. I wanted to point out that there is a growing need for a more definable visual language and the shortcomings of what would be considered “Christian art”. This has not worked out as I hoped and is a bit more of a rant for me than a discussion.
Please feel free to ask questions and spawn some of our own discussion.
Till next time,