Alchemy is known as the art and science of transformation, and what holds more transformative power than art?
Although it has been for centuries misunderstood, beneath its crude appearance lies a profound esoteric process, imbued with rich symbolism. It is through this alchemical language that my journey in art has been, and continues to be informed by.
Below is a small window into my world of Art, what it means to me and the stages of transformation I have encountered since I picked up a brush and painted for myself. Sometimes I see a chronology in the stages, and other times I experience transformations happening simultaneously, or retrospectively, at different stages and on different levels.
Chemically, the Calcination process involves the intense heating of raw matter, separating its volatile constituents and bringing about a state shift until the substance is reduced to ashes.
Inwardly, this is usually a natural humbling process, as we are burned by life. This is a time where any superficial parts of the ego are purged, and a refined ego emerges as distinct from an underlying essence. It is in this stage where a journey of introspection and self-evaluation begins.
It was in the crucible of a particularly intense and difficult part of my life when I turned to Art. It felt like a necessity at the time, to have something where the entire substance of my being could be channelled without thought or motive. A space soon emerged, one where I could express and alter the state of my emotions and inner-workings, even if I didn’t quite understand them.
Art became a vehicle. It helped me to navigate periods of darkness and uncertainty, initiating a journey within. What didn’t matter quickly burned away, revealing my core constituents.
After the raw matter has been sufficiently cooked, the left over solute is then dissolved in a solvent (such as water).
The symbolic element of this stage is water, and in psycho-spiritual terms, represents a deep encounter with the unconscious. It is here where the ego, having been humbled in Calcination, must undergo a further process of deep deconstruction (or dissolution) in the oceanic depths of the transpersonal waters.
Having stimulated an emerging creative space for channelling my inner thoughts and feelings through painting, I began to feel the presence of something ‘other’.
The initial rawness of emotion expressed through painting, began to feel like salt on the soul – which was at once regenerative and purifying. My inner world, freed from the heaviness of repressed pain, was ready to be dissolved into something nurturing and liberating.
In the third stage, the substances left from dissolution are filtered and separated from one another.
Here begins the process of sorting out conscious contents. Aspects of the unconscious that were once suppressed or discarded, and have made themselves known through the previous two purification processes, are ready to be sifted through. It is here where we ask ourselves ‘What really matters?’
Emerging from the primordial waters is never easy when it feels so comfortable. Similarly, when I reached a point where art was providing me support, and a feeling of being part of something bigger, I knew that I had to pay attention to the themes and new information about myself that were beginning to emerge.
Distilled in the comfort of painting, a clearer picture of my life gradually appeared and new perspectives of old patterns came to the fore. Suddenly I found my art pushing me in new directions to assess these hidden qualities, newly emerged from the shadow, and get a good clear look at them in the light.
The Alchemist’s task in this stage is to combine the elements deemed worthy from the process of separation.
This stage is signified by the moment the contents of the Moon (the unconscious mind) reaches the Sun (the conscious mind). Here, we can more readily engage with the process of integration, witnessing the cause-and-effect relationship of our thoughts and actions as we set them in motion with will and intent. At this stage, we can begin to see how our former mode of consciousness no longer fits with the vision of the world we wish to create.
There’s nothing more that provides me with the opportunity to discover new parts of my inner and outer world than art. There is always something present through the creative process, in terms of an idea or a new understanding that is ready to be integrated in some way.
And it was in this particular part of the journey that I could deepen my understanding of where I begin and end, both in the world and inside. Art has taught me that there is no limit how far we can reach out and in.
I love to see others connect with my visions and colours; there’s something incredibly bonding in that experience.
It is in the fermentation stage where the Alchemist stimulates the oxidation process with the introduction of organisms.
Quite like rotten grapes becoming wine, hops becoming beer, or the Phoenix rising from the ashes, it is at this point where we allow space for putrid thoughts in the unconscious to rise to surface reality, where we can make them even better. This is a testing time, and often brings about a ‘Dark night of the Soul’, but with temperance, we can make sure our good work doesn’t become undone.
It’s easy to think that you’ve got life all figured out, until something catches you completely off-guard. It could be a complex feeling you never knew you had, or a crushing doubt from an unknown origin. Different things have their own timing, but there’s always something ready to be faced. Art is my canvas to let those things ‘air off’ and give them a space to breathe.
An artist’s work is never done, and refinement and improvement is a part of the job. There seems to be a kind of mirroring going on, where my work is challenged and refined, and I’m challenged and refined in myself at the same time.
Distillation is a process of purification, where the contents of a solution are boiled and condensed repeatedly.
Much like the distillation of a liquor removes impurities, the spirit is freed from any remaining destructive forms of ego in this stage as the contents of each dimensional frame of consciousness access the divine spark running throughout. It is here where the seed of our transpersonal Self in nurtured, and we begin to hold space for multiple perspectives and realities.
I began painting as a way to express myself and feel a kind of unconditional love in a time when those things were difficult to find. It still offers me those things, but it has become so much more.
When people view my art and are able to use it as a lens to see something of themselves through it, I am always amazed at how many perspectives there can be about the same theme. Being able to access this multiplicity of realities through others, and re-frame them into my own understanding is one of the gifts that art has given me. It is a gift that keeps giving.
This stage brings to a close the Alchemist’s process – the seven phases of ‘Solve et Coagula‘ – as the substance is crystalized into a solid state.
In spiritual alchemy, this represents the union of opposites. Symbolized by the Sun, it is here where a work of ‘Gold’ – or pure consciousness – is manifested in the world through the form of a new paradigm made in our own image. It is not necessarily the perfection of consciousness that is sought, but the work of transformation itself. We go forward with a new understanding of paradoxical nature, knowing that we are at once dualistic and singular, and yet both of those things and neither.
Alchemy and has long captured my imagination, and it continues to speak to me through my art. It has guided my transformations in so many ways. I think that’s part of the magic – to be able to have a visual record and a framework for working with a particular turning point in your life, or perhaps being able to view an ordinary moment in retrospect and see the extra-ordinary in it.
Art is a living medium, its works are entities, and the alchemical process is constantly informing me, independent of the time and space. It’s something that connects us as one and highlights our uniqueness too.