Female Generates Form
Art and Alchemy
While art and science are two separate disciplines, the cross pollination between them is becoming increasingly apparent. The aesthetic nature revealed in the visual product of scientific exploration is recognized. If the impetus of humanity's “original artists” was to understand the natural world, convey information, and especially to express the perceived beauty around them, then chemistry also contains this impetus to deconstruct, understand and convey the sublime phenomena of our world.
As we break down our world into its constituent elements, particles and compounds, we seek to find the boundaries of what is known. The more we discover, the more remains to be revealed. In seeking to know that which is unknown, inevitably all science, philosophy, and art search to examine reality. One of the advantages of art is that it allows for exceptions. In the practice of art-making, any rule or rules may be broken at any time. In fact, some of the greatest masterpieces in art history are considered as such precisely because, “it breaks all the rules” and shouldn’t work, but does.
With art as well as science, elements within the physical world must be manipulated, destroyed, or created in order to examine theories and ideas. An artist must bridge the gap between the the theoretical and the physical by rendering information, and in the mastery of aesthetic properties, communicate it according to their vision. It is here, classically, that the focus of science and art have diverged. Alchemy, which moves between scientific exploration and artistic creation seeks to transform the practitioner by the transmutation of physical elements within a metaphysical construct.
Jean Dubuis, founder of “Le Philosophes du Nature” in France described alchemy in a 1994 interview:
It is within this philosophy that many artists work. Artists leave themselves open to transmutation by knowledge and experience so that that which is seen or perceived may be recorded or addressed. Questions, answers, experiences or states of being may be expressed. But as in chemistry or in alchemy, this cannot be done with intuition and postulation alone. It is in the process and product of experimentation that these concepts reveal themselves.
Tremendous leaps forward in the sciences have evolved proportionally with the technology by which discoveries in our physical world can be seen. It is now possible to contemplate hard visualization of discoveries on the cutting edge of science. In tandem, our psyche has evolved by our commonplace contact with the aesthetically powerful imagery of complex phenomena we can now physically see. As art evolves, it has also benefited by advances in new technologies and materials, and can capture and manipulate visual language found throughout the sciences.
My art takes much of its content from the visual language and information in chemistry and physical sciences. The process by which I make art also mimics the workings of a lab, just as a chemist's lab might function like an artist's studio. It is through the control and prediction of mixtures of compounds and individual elements as well as in the helpful mistakes that arise, that I am able to develop my work.
In this recent series of works reproduced here, I have used different inks and chemicals reacting with sheets of acetate and paper. I began with a monotype print (Element , Image 1a) process, using one sheet of acetate as the print block. By hand pressing the acetate to the paper and removing it, the ink soaks into the surface of the paper and is vivid in color, but appears stain-like. The series continues, with Signature (Image 1b). I trap diverse liquid media in-between two acetate layers applied over a monotype print made in the same fashion as image Ia. This process keeps the media “active” in it's liquid form, reacting with the surface of the acetates. The bulk of the image is created through the properties of repulsion and attraction. Coagulation (Image 1c) is the most volatile of the series. In this piece, water, inks, oils and other chemicals bubble up on the surface of an acetate, skinning over the edges of thick areas and pooling and hardening in others. The final image, Female Generated Form (Image 1d), is created through the build up of many layers of acetates, each containing a “slice” of color and shape information created by captured media. The culmination of which is a complex image of color and shape rendering a female torso, the technique being a manual painting emulating how an MRI scan would render information.
This series is a metaphor for the evolution of life, a form evolving through chemical generation. Each successive manifestation is a more complex organization of the elements present in the one before. By both controlling the physical elements and witnessing what occurs beyond my control by their combination, I am able to contemplate the inevitable rise of comprehensive and complicated forms out of basic elements. The complexity and beauty I find in this process allows me to question life’s beginnings, and leaves me to ponder human evolution.
“It [alchemy] is the only initiatic [sic] path were there is an objective control in the laboratory. So if your experiments show you’ve gone beyond the ordinary material laws of the universe, it shows that you’re an alchemist that has had an inner awakening, and that corresponds to the rules set by Paracelsus, and Paracelsus said, ‘You will transmute nothing if you have not transmuted yourself before.’ ”
(LPN-USA Third Annual Seminar 10/12-16/94)
Image 1b Signature
Mixed Media, Acetate,
8" x 9"
Image 1a Element
8" x 10"
Image 1c Coagulation
Mixed Media, Acetate, Monotype
8" x 10"
Image 1d Female Generated Form
Mixed Media, Acetate, Monotype
8" x 10"