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Alchemy and Art e-mail group archive
December 1996.

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Subject: ART - Identifying artists
From: Adam McLean
Date: 7th Dec 1996

There are now 20 people subscriber to the Art and alchemy forum. So we can now begin our discussions.

The first task I would like set this group, is to identify individual artists throughout the history of Art who have been influenced in some way by alchemical or hermetic ideas. Initially, it might be best to limit ourselves to Western Art history - we can follow up references in other traditions later.

So I wonder if people on this list can make some suggestions that we can add to a running list of artists, that hopefully will expand as we research further. This list will then be posted onto the Web site.

Adam McLean

Subject: ART - Some artists
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 1996 17:08:17 -0700
From:Thom S. Heileson

>So I wonder if people on this list can make some suggestions that we can add
>to a running list of artists, that hopefully will expand as we research
>further. This list will then be posted onto the Web site.

I recently did a presentation on alchemy and art to a group of art students.
To get the ball rolling, I'll mention here some of the artists I mentioned
in that presentation. For a couple of them, I have some paragraphs of text
which I am copying from my outline and pasting here.

* Anselm Kiefer:

Quote from John C. Gilmour's book "Bruch und Einung":

The obvious allusion (in Kiefer's use of lead) is to the relationship
between the alchemist's project of transforming nature by fire and the
modern industrial transformation of the materials of the earth and its
attendant ecological thread... In associating the creative process with the
positive potentials of alchemy, Kiefer reiterates an attitude toward
alchemy shared by Antonin Artaud, who spoke of the Theater of Cruelty as an
"alchemical theater." ... Kiefer has adopted a self-image as
alchemist-artist, pushing the manipulation of molten lead to new heights in
his works of the 1980s.

From Mark Rosenthal's book "Anselm Kiefer":

(here discussing a painting by Kiefer called "Nigredo," done in the mid 80s):

Nigredo is a stage in the alchemical process known as the magnum opus, by
which the alchemist seeks to transmute the ordinary, that is, to turn base
matter such as lead, earth, or stone to gold. But the gold is only symbolic
of a larger achievement, that of eternal perfection... Universal
Redemption; the alchemist perfects nature and himself at the same time. The
Nigredo phase is filled with associations of a return to a pre-cosmological
chaos, preceding the moment of rebirth. The phase ends with the appearance
on the surface of a starry aspect, in which a glow begins to be seen in the
sky. This lightening occurs, as well, in Kiefer's "Nigredo."
...
For Kiefer the alchemist, the world is a physical entity, requiring a
philosophy in which reflection and action are joined. ... Kiefer wanted a
more forceful relationship with materials than he had ever had before.
After making specific reference to alchemical processes in "Nigredo,"
Kiefer began, literally, to carry out this activity. He subjected paintings
to burning and melting, exploring the physical / spiritual character of his
materials.
...
In later works, Kiefer is no longer depicting stages of alchemy but, in a
very literal sense, is becoming an alchemist, who attempts to work the
materials of the earth into new formations. He has created his own system
of elements, consisting of sand, straw, lead and iron...

* Joseph Beuys:

(From a paper I wrote on Beuys and his relation to alchemy and shamanism,
in 1992):

Beuys' role was that of a shamanic artist, whose ritualistic sculptures and
actions strive to re-integrate man with nature and spirituality ... and for
the marriage of science and spirit. Actions / sculptures such as "Eurasia"
use a formal vocabulary which is both mythic and scientific to not only
illustrate this merging of Western rationalism and Eastern
transcendentalism, but also to physically act out the concept, to manifest
the idea in the physical world and provide both artist and spectator with a
heightened involvement.
...
As important a role as the element of action (human / animal / mechanical /
chemical) plays in Beuys' work, just as important is his consideration of
material. His search for the mystical and philosophical through sculpture
seems to pull the more profound aspects of alchemy into a late 20th century
context of art and its role in society.
...
Beuys used a diagram depicting a linear relationship between the elements
sulphur, mercury and salt to illustrate his Theory of Sculpture. Caroline
Tisdall outlined this model as a metaphor for Beuys' perspective:

"This Theory of Sculpture describes the passage of everything in the world,
physical or psychological, from a chaotic state to an ordered state.
Chaotic is the state of raw material, ordered is the state of processed or
formed material. Here it appears in a crystalline state, represented in the
diagram as a tetrahedron and characterized as cold and intellectual...

"Ideally a balance should be achieved. Balance, reintegration and flexible
flow between the areas of thinking, feeling and will, all of which are
essential, are the objective of the Theory."

This reveals a strong similarity between Beuys' mission and the more
metaphysical objectives of the alchemical tradition. Israel Regardie's
discussion of these objectives echoes Beuys' theory:

"It is with this rigidity of consciousness, with this inflexible
crystallized condition of the mind, that Alchemy, like modern
psychotherapy, proposes to deal... the alchemists proposed to kill death.
Their object, by the psychological method of interpretation, was to
disintegrate this inflexible rigidity of mind... alchemy aspires towards
the development of an integrated and free individual who is illuminated."

(proper bibliographic notes pending; I am in the final week of the quarter
of art school and thus quite busy...)

* Max Ernst:

I noted comparisons between "Week of Kindness" and alchemical etchings and
/ or Jungian or post-Freudian ideas...

From publisher's note to an edition of Week of Kindness:

"Ernst's 'Week of Kindness' is a collage of concepts and language. Instead
of the traditional seven deadly sins, we have deadly elements; and while
two of Ernst's elements, water and fire, belong to the traditional four, he
gives us seven and includes five unusual ones. The 'examples' of the
elements also appear to be quite capricious, but even there we find some
subtle relationships. Each section of the work in preceded by an epigraph
from the writings of a Dadaist or Surrealist or an adoptive forebear of the
Surrealists."

(The use of the epigraph form of course parallels various alchemy
engravings series.)

Many symbols in Week of Kindness are common to alchemy illustrations,
including the lion, serpents, wings, and the elements of fire and water.

Other artists I discussed:

* Marcel Duchamp

* Bosch

And others about whom I have heard/read of alchemical connections (through
discussion with peers or otherwise) but have yet to research in depth:

* Albrecht Durer

* Kandinsky

*Julia Morrison

* Boehme (sp? -- all my text sources are at school and not here)

Hope this may be of some help. Looking very much forward to more discussion
and elaboration of this topic,

Thom S. Heileson

Subject: ART - More artists
From: M.E. WARLICK
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 1996 06:20:11 -0700 (MST)

Hi art lovers!
I'd like to add a few more names to those suggested by Thom
Heileson.
In the 16th and 17th centuries there were a number of artists who
portrayed alchemy as a symbol of human folly, including Pieter Brueghel
(c. 1525-69), David Teniers the Younger (1610-90), Jan Steen (1626-79),
Cornelis Bega (don't have his dates handy), and others. The reasons for
doing this have been debated, also there is some disagreement about how
accurately their depictions of alchemical laboratories accurately reflect
the contents of labs at the time. See C.R. Hill, "The Iconography of the
Laboratory," -Ambix- Vol. 22, part 2 (July 1975): 102-110. Hill also
cites E.J. Holmyard, "Alchemical Equipment," -A History of Technology-
New York and London, 1956, Vol. 2, 749.

The Wellcome Institute in London has many of these images sorted
by topic -Alchemy- on their fiche cards. Unfortunately, when I was there
last June they did not have any written information on these images yet
entered into their computer. I'm returning to London in January, and
will see if any progress has been made. That would be a great resource
to have.

Much more needs to be known about the artists who worked on the
great body of alchemical imagery of the early 17th century in the
publications of Merian and his circle.

18th c. we could add Joseph Wright of Derby, for his painting -
the Discovery of Phorphorus-

For the surrealists, I would certainly endorse the inclusion of
Max Ernst. Adam has kindly cited my article on Une Semaine de Bonte on
the Web Site. Much of his work is filled with alchemical reference.
John Moffitt, Arturo Schwartz have worked on Marcel Duchamp. There are
also a number of women artists who were drawn to this topic in the late
1930s-60s, including Leonor Fini, Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo
(these last two have been researched by Kelly Wacker for their
imaginative transformation of the alchemical laboratory into the
alchemical kitchen). Lauri Wilson is working on a manuscript exploring
the interests of Alberto Giacommetti, a bridge artist between surrealism
and abstract expressionism.

Elizabeth Langhorne's alchemical interpretations of Jackson
Pollock met with some resistance, but Jungian interpretations were
certainly in the air in New York in the late 1940s and 1950s (I think
Adolf Gottlieb titled one of his early paintings, The Alchemist).

More recently, I would endorse the Germans Beuys and Kiefer. I'm
also wondering about Sigmar Polke, but haven't read much about him yet.
I did see an installation piece at the Hirshhorn several years ago in
D.C. in which he had reproduced some of the Frankfurt images, and his use
of metallic paints would suggest some interest to me.

M.E.

Subject: ART - More artists
From: Deborah Harkness
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 1996 12:22:03 -0500

I'd like to add a few thoughts, as well.

I just heard a wonderful paper by Pamela Smith of Pomona College on art
and realism in natural philosophy. Though not specifically about
alchemy, her earlier work on alchemy is certainly provocative in this
regard.

Would it be alright for me (or Adam?) to contact her to see if she would
like in on the discussion?

Deborah Harkness

Subject: ART - Alchemy artists
From: Vladimir Georgiev
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 1996 16:56:33 +100

Dear friends,

Have you come across this title: Stanislas Klossowski de Rola,
The Golden Game: Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century
(1988)? I have many titles at home in Bulgaria which I will post
around after the Christmas break.

With festive greetings,

Vlado.
vladimir Georgiev

Subject: ART - Piero della Francesca
Date: Sat, 11 Jan 1997 13:45:39 +0100 (MET)
From: John Ashpool

I put the 'Allegory of the Flagellation' by Piero della Francesca on my
wall a while ago and realised I'd better start the New Year by trying to
fathom the fascination it has exercised on me for so long.This is the
conclusion I arrived at.

Obviously a cryptic summary of Neo Platonic ideas. It
develops from a complicated series of Golden Sections out of the eye of
the seated figure on the left in relation to Christs 'heart' which is at
the center of several crosses, diagonal and horizontal.

However, it was not until I realised that the golden
Apollo figure, (Sacred Science) who is holding a rod at 36° was a coded
reference to the then very heretical idea of a 'heliocentric system',
that I felt I'd discovered something. (He is holding up a shining
'globe'.) The angle 36° being basic to the pentagon and to the 36-54-90
triangle which was used as a base for AL-gebra and was considered by
Egyptians and pythagoras's followers to be inherent in the cosmic order.

This 'heresy' is an idea likely enough to have been found
in the Hellenistic atmosphere of Urbino at that time.(Curiously the Apollo
figure relates to the figure of the 'Hermit' of the Tarot deck and to the
'negative' column of 'the tree of life'), Apollo holds a staff in one hand
and a light in the other. I imagine this is also a cryptic idea also going
back to Egypt and circulated by the Phonecians who reputedly traded tin
from Cornwall and might have used the dissemination of The Tarot to
propagate science hidden in 'mystification'.)

How come the line of the balustrade behind the angel falls
at 23 mm above the center line on my 1/3rd scale reproduction? And the
line of the trio's eyes fall at 50 mm, given that 23° corresponds to the
tropic of Cancer and 50° to the Latitude of Venice. (The British
incidentally were known as 'Angles' - Angle Terre - and one idea has it
that it was because the lines Cornwall,South Coast,Bristol Channel could
have been imagined by the Phonecians to come to a point of 36°.) The great
Pyramid was at exactly 30° North ( not 28.6 or 31.5 or some other
irrational no.) Persepolis too.The module above the bearded 'Arab' is
exactly 30mm long - (Thrice great Hermes).

The two figures on the right- flanking the 'Angel' figure
are traditionally held to be part of an Arab deligation which is known to
have visited Adriatic Italy prior to the execution of the painting.
(Oddantino?)

As Islam had been the repository of 'science' and
mathematics during the 'dark ages' ( and Al-kemy) and Plato was held in
very high esteem by the Arabs who held to the heliocentric theory, then
maybe this picture celibrates 'knowledge' brought to Italy by them.

Are we in the presence of some kind of circle of
'illuminati' or 'proto Masons'? My Heliocentric idea is maybe a common one
reserved for Masons, of which I am not one.However I have not encountered
the suggestion in any of the books I have read on the subject.The edition
of Piero and the Early Renaissance by Philip Hendy which I have presents
the reproduction so that the right hand of the picture is cut by the line
of the back of the bearded figure's cloak to form a perfect golden
rectangle.It is produced at exactly 1/3rd scale so that the 23 -50 mm
'meridiens work out perfectly and the horizontal bar considered the module
is exactly 3 cms long - (Thrice great Hermes).Coincidence? Surely not.Can
we assume then that this information was always available to 'he who has
eyes to see' or to a class of initiates 'Úlite' (Hellenes-Eliates) of
sufficient intellectual standing?

I have next to scan 'the floor' on the left of the picture
into my computer to look at it without the perspective effect. If my
suppositions are reasonable it would logically be some sort of a map
projection of the Earth.

Incidentally the latin tag 'convergerunt in unum' - they
converge in one - is also connected with the picture.(Quoted by Philip
Hendy, without explaination, as an aside.) The globe forms the apex of a
pyramid triangle ( Cheops was called 'the light' ) and Christs heart is in
the exact mirrored position of the inverted triangle,(shifted to the
left).

So: the heart of the Son is the Sun.
What's in a name?

Is the seated figure the painter?
What is the significance of being seated? There is a
beautiful seated Joseph in Piero's 'Adoration' which reminds me of a
drawing of an seated old man with a staff, by Leonardo - who is associated
with the 'Illuminati'idea and who took pains to resemble or create the
architypal figure of the Hermit.

There are probably lots more conjectures to draw from the
picture but that's all I have for now. I am going to publish my findings
when finished this enquiry. I consider the above my intellectual property
should anyone consider using it without quoting me.

Subject: ART - Anselm Kiefer
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 01:23:23 +0100
From: Michal Pober

I was interested in a major review by Adrian Searle in the Guardian Weekly,
which probably appeared in The Guardian also, of new paintings by Anselm
Kiefer, who has two shows in London, at Anthony d'Offay and at the South
London Gallery. He apparently "during the seventies and eighties produced
one of the more contentious bodies of work to come out of Germany in the
post-war period."

The following particularly caught my attention:
"Taken as a whole, Kiefer's new work is as difficult as it is compelling.
Always a bibliophile, Kiefer has developed a taste for reading the kind of
stuff that gives you bedsores (!?): esoteric texts, burrowing to the
metaphysical arcana of Robert Fludd, the English Rosicrucian; the 17th
century poetry of Francesco de Quevedo, alchemical texts, Biblical
references, the Caballa, C.G. Jung, all stitched together in a way that
ends up as indegistible and intentionally preposterous as Umberto Eco's
Foucault's Pendulum."
The review continues at some length to describe a variety of seemingly
highly compelling images, including , for example, "A trickle of gold runs
down the broken stones, an intimation of sacrifice and the
transubstantiation of blood and gold."

This brings up several questions for me, some of which, such as the
subjective impact and the associations that the images might imply, would
probably be answered by seeing the work in London, which unfortunately
seems out of the question at the moment.

I'm particularly interested though in what people feel about the validity
of using a synthesis of alchemical/caballistic/Jungian/Biblical sources to
create a work of art and what kind of impact this may have. Is the point
that the artist has absorbed all these sources and is using them to inform
and inspire his work? Or is he attempting with his synthesis to create an
alchemical transformation? Is it possible for example to transmit an
authentic alchemical experience in this way - clearly one that will be far
different from the contemplation of a classic alchemical image. Or is the
point that this has all been mashed together and totally Foucault'd up.

Of course it would help tremendously to see the work; one painting is
reproduced, in black and white in this article and the clearest thing about
it is its staggering size..

Does anyone feel like checking out these exhibitions (open till the end of
February) and reporting back if there's anything worth reporting?

Michal Pober

Subject: ART - Anselm Kiefer
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 12:38:56 -0700
From: Thom S. Heileson

>From: Michal Pober
>I was interested in a major review by Adrian Searle in the Guardian Weekly,
>which probably appeared in The Guardian also, of new paintings by Anselm
>Kiefer, who has two shows in London, at Anthony d'Offay and at the South
>London Gallery. He apparently "during the seventies and eighties produced
>one of the more contentious bodies of work to come out of Germany in the
>post-war period."

I am very familiar with Kiefer's work and in fact he is a major reason for
my in-depth interest in alchemy. If it weren't for his and Joseph Beuys'
work, I likely wouldn't be subscribed to this list. I am a mixed-media
artist, and my work has been influenced vastly by Kiefer's. So your post is
of much interest to me, obviously, and I hope I can help shed more light on
the subject as much as possible.

To begin with, I'll re-post some snippets of text which I posted a couple
of months ago:

-----

* Anselm Kiefer:

Quote from John C. Gilmour's book "Bruch und Einung":

The obvious allusion (in Kiefer's use of lead) is to the relationship
between the alchemist's project of transforming nature by fire and the
modern industrial transformation of the materials of the earth and its
attendant ecological thread... In associating the creative process with the
positive potentials of alchemy, Kiefer reiterates an attitude toward
alchemy shared by Antonin Artaud, who spoke of the Theater of Cruelty as an
"alchemical theater." ... Kiefer has adopted a self-image as
alchemist-artist, pushing the manipulation of molten lead to new heights in
his works of the 1980s.

From Mark Rosenthal's book "Anselm Kiefer":

(here discussing a painting by Kiefer called "Nigredo," done in the mid 80s):

Nigredo is a stage in the alchemical process known as the magnum opus, by
which the alchemist seeks to transmute the ordinary, that is, to turn base
matter such as lead, earth, or stone to gold. But the gold is only symbolic
of a larger achievement, that of eternal perfection... Universal
Redemption; the alchemist perfects nature and himself at the same time. The
Nigredo phase is filled with associations of a return to a pre-cosmological
chaos, preceding the moment of rebirth. The phase ends with the appearance
on the surface of a starry aspect, in which a glow begins to be seen in the
sky. This lightening occurs, as well, in Kiefer's "Nigredo."
...
For Kiefer the alchemist, the world is a physical entity, requiring a
philosophy in which reflection and action are joined. ... Kiefer wanted a
more forceful relationship with materials than he had ever had before.
After making specific reference to alchemical processes in "Nigredo,"
Kiefer began, literally, to carry out this activity. He subjected paintings
to burning and melting, exploring the physical / spiritual character of his
materials.
...
In later works, Kiefer is no longer depicting stages of alchemy but, in a
very literal sense, is becoming an alchemist, who attempts to work the
materials of the earth into new formations. He has created his own system
of elements, consisting of sand, straw, lead and iron...

-----

I think it's important to point out that Keifer's work is very much the
kind of artwork which must be seen, in color reproductions at least, in
order to properly assimilate / evaluate. Part of the alchemistic nature of
his work lies in his relationship to the physicality of materials -- an
animistic way of dealing with various substances (used as "prima materia"
in a way anaolous to the way in which various phiosophical / mythical
_ideas_ are used in the mixture) -- this sense of physicality is important
not only in the artists's process but in the viewer's perception of the
work. Unfortunately we are not all able to zip over to a museum which has
one of his works in person (I've been fortunate enough to see one of his
huger pieces at the Smithsonian), but color reproductions in book form do
convey much of this physicality and incredible beauty (IMO) well enough. It
was via book reproductions that I was awestruck by his images; after being
seduced visually / viscerally, I went on to discovery the complexity of his
references, as well as the alchemical aspects. His work functions on many
levels, many of which may be appreciated without knowledge of the more
arcane ideological contents. (I'd suggest finding one of the book
quoted-from above to see the work; "Bruch und Einung" happens to contain my
favorite pieces.)

I've just begun reading "Foucault's Pendulum", but think I know the jist of
the plot and of your question as to Kiefer's mixture of references. It
should be noted that Kiefer's innumeral references are not limited to
arcane texts as mentioned in the catalogue you cite -- they also include
modern phenomena, such as Germany's tainted 20th century legacy, and the
various aspects of nuclear energy, which he often addresses in a way which
parallels the issue with an ancient myth (as he does with the myth of Isis
and Osiris in particular works), this done with a method of 'equivalence'
which reverbates with the alchemical aphorism "as above, so below."

As the the validity of ideological syntheses, I would point out two things;
first, that although the complexty of his references seems, upon reading of
them, far too cumbersome to handle as an artist with any kind of subtlety,
Kiefer does manage to achieve it with a large degree of elegance (much of
which includes a method of "equivalence" not only between ideas but between
those ideas and corresponding materials); seeing the works is, of course,
important in evaluating this for yourself. Second, the very idea of such
cross-global, cross-temporal sythesis is IMO very much in line with the
alchemical tenet of macrocosm=micrososm; "all in the one, the one in all."

Lest I come off as too much of a fanboy here, I do attempt to keep an open
and skeptical mind about the strength / validity of Kiefer's work, knowing
that he is an immensely successful artists in Germany and worldwide. But at
this point in time I believe that his work (at least since the
mid-eighties) constitutes an incarnation to some degree of the artist 'as'
alchemist. (This idea is one I am strugging with right now with my own
work; I am striving to understand and properlay evaluate such a role of the
artist.)

I would very much look forward to any continued discussion on this topic.

Thom S. Heileson

P.S. If anyone knows af a website where Kiefer's work may be viewed, please
post it here. My search-engine attempts have yielded naught thus far.

Subject: ART - Kiefer
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 1997 08:09:33 +0100
From: Maurizio Nicosia

Dear Art members,

if you wish observe some Kiefer's painting, and "Nigredo", visit these
sites:

http://www.vol.it/wm/paint/auth/kiefer/
http://www.vol.it/wm/paint/auth/kiefer/nigredo.jpg

With my best wishes,

Murizio Nicosia

Subject: ART - Kiefer
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 1997 13:13:18 -0900
From: Larry Anderson

>if you wish observe some Kiefer's painting, and "Nigredo", visit these
>sites:
>http://www.vol.it/wm/paint/auth/kiefer/
>http://www.vol.it/wm/paint/auth/kiefer/nigredo.jpg

Dear Friends,

I had trouble reaching the above sites but did locate Kiefer's paintings at:
http://sunsite.unc.edu/wm/paint/author/kiefer/

Blessings,
Larry Anderson

Subject: ART - Anselm Kiefer
Date: Fri, 17 Jan 1997 00:05:09 +0100
From: Michal Pober

>if you wish observe some Kiefer's painting, and "Nigredo", visit these
>sites:
>>http://www.vol.it/wm/paint/auth/kiefer/
>>http://www.vol.it/wm/paint/auth/kiefer/nigredo.jpg
>>http://sunsite.unc.edu/wm/paint/author/kiefer/

Thank you very much for the above information. I was not able to reach the
sunsite address, but was able to reach the vol. addresses. and to download
the Nigredo picture. I have to say that watching it appear was very
exciting!

I also discovered one other site which has a fuller and more analytical
autobiographical entry on Kiefer,and a picture from, I believe 1973,
entitled "Germany's Spiritual Heroes".It is described as a cross between a
memorial hall and a crematorium, and its an inside view, a large room, like
a barn. It reminded me of some of the buildings at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

http://www.broadartfdn.org/bio-kiefer.html
http://www.broadartfdn.org/c11.kiefer.htm1

Thanks you Thom Heileson for your very interesting and full response to my
tentative opening. And my apologies for not getting back sooner, but we had
electrical failures among other problems.

I particularly connected to your description of the physical connection
between the way that the artist is working with his materials, and the
physical response of the viewer. You spoke of being seduced
visually/viscerally. This is something that I can relate to and perhaps its
the only experience of Art that feels real to me.

Your description of that sensation reminded me of an exhibition I once saw
in Ottawa, of Japanese environmental pieces, also on a massive scale and
involving a huge amount of work and effort, some of it over a long period
of time. I'm sorry to say that the title eludes me at the moment; it was
based on the Five Elements, and must have been in 1990 or 91. There was one
huge tree, or about 30 feet of it, probably 2 and a half feet in diameter
which had been bent and cinched over its whole growing time into a perfect
circle, not quite complete. The wood had been stripped completely of bark
and it was as polished as silk.Visceral indeed! especially the contrast
between the massiveness of the wood and the sheen of the finish. At the
time the Ouroboros form had no special significance for me, but the potency
of that aspsct of the image was present nevertheless.

Are we talking here about a communication of experience, understanding, of
the process of change through heat, pressure, water, wind, that, when the
artist is successful, permeates us in a way that obviates the need for
encoded verbal description? That teaches understanding of the alchemical
mysteries?

Coming back to Kiefer, from the little I've discovered of him so far, it is
clear that the monumentality of the work and the way that he works with
materials is also in the nature of a ritualistic practice. Are we getting
drawn into the mysteries through a kind of hypnotic transference? or is
this a kind of invocation that is transmitted to the viewer?

Please share more! Its exciting. I want to see more. I have to see
whether I can get hold of those books in Prague.

Do you know where there are significant collections of Kiefer's work?
Somewhere in Germany? Do you want to tell us more about your work and how
it connects with Kiefer and alchemy?

Finally how can we persuade Kiefer to send a contribution to this group AND
get Adam to allow him to post it.

Regards,
Michal

Subject: ART - Kiefer and contemporary art (1)
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 17:54:09 +0100
From: Maurizio Nicosia

Decidedly in our group the work of Anselm Kiefer has catalyzed much
attention. I would wish in first place to propose some observations on his
work (in two parts) that I think everybody has seen.

Kiefer has been among the first to return to painting in the
seventies, during a season in which performances and installations
dominated the scene of the visual arts. And this aspect is to be emphasized,
because Joseph Beuys, who Kiefer has frequented and retains as his Master,
is among the international protagonists of the season of the
performances and the installations. Beuys was deeply influenced by
Steiner and therefore by anthroposophy, in a special way by the
anthroposophical social doctrine. Kiefer has realized installations,
also, but the center of his work revolves around the painting of
landscapes and of urban places.

Why painting? In his choice could be already the reason of his
interest in alchemy: performances and installations derive from
Duchamp, whose works have been frequently been interpreted
using alchemical keys. But while a ready-made implicates,
for an artist, only a choice of objects to assemble, the painting
involves a work on the substance and its transformation. A mineral
or vegetable substance become FORM: triangle, tree or other still.
In a work of art, affirmed Duchamp in the 1957, a real transubstantiation
takes place. Perhaps this is the point of departure of the work of Kiefer:
the artistic work as 'opera' of transubstantiation.

The theme is explicit in his "Resurrexit"
(http://www.vol.it/wm/paint/auth/kiefer/): the nature is the first of
the seven steps that lead to the threshold. The format, so unusual
today, reveals an evident derivation from the medieval poliptychs where,
in place of the door, are situated the representation of God the Father, or
the ascension of Christ. As much unequivocal in Kiefer is the recalling
of the romantic spirit of Friedrich: the nature as place of disclosure,
of demonstration of the divine, and the landscape as "barometer" of the
soul: the landscape as state of mind. But it will be necessary to
reflect on those steps of wood: the world of the nature transformed in
work, the wood (probably drawn theme from Junger) that becomes, for the
intervention of the man, ziggurat, staircase of Jacob, and of the
knowledge. But I would not surprise that the two joined triangles
constituted from the staircase and from the sky comment the staircase of
Jacob by the way of Eraclito: the way up and the way down are one and
the same.

The elevation on sky and the conquest of the body of glory are instead
implicit in the work dedicate to "Margarete" (same url), the young girl
loved by the Faust of Goethe. Faust, in fact, after having worked at the
homunculus and having participated at the Walpurgis night, that has as
theatre a landscape enlightened from the moon, he ascends in sky thanks
"to the eternal feminine that always rise us". Also in "March heath" the
viaticum completes in sky, after having crossed, in the month of the
Aries, the "dead land", "earth in forgetful snow". I think that, with
Eliot, Kiefer wonders: "That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout?"

Your comments could modify the succession: they are therefore
appreciated.

With my best wishes,

Maurizio Nicosia

Subject: ART - Alchemy and Picasso
Date: 21st Jan 1997
From: Adam McLean

There is an interesting site on Picasso and Alchemy at

http://web.org.uk/picasso/alchemy.html

I would be interested in anyone's views on this material.

Adam McLean

Subject: ART - Kiefer
Date: Tue, 21 Jan 1997 22:21:41 +0100
From: Michal Pober

Dear Maurizio Nicosia,
Thank you for your posting and the commentary on the pictures.
I had been to that site, and couldn't figure out how you had seen so much
in the pictures, so I went back and only then discovered that the pictures
are thumb -prints and you can see and download the whole thing, massive
size..

What is the technology for then being able to see all of a picture which
runs off both sides of the screen and takes a while to scroll down?
I downloaded Resurrexit and then because it was running slow switched over
to a mirror-site in Prague to download some more and that was worse. There
are a number of mirror-sites listed at the bottom of the home page of which
the sunsite that Larry Anderson listed a while ago was undoubtedly one.

Still hoping for comments from London about the shows, for information
about any collections in Europe, and how we could reach the man himself.

On a completely different topic, and perhaps this has already come up
before, there is a book published last year in Germany that is a massive
collection of alchemical images, the subtitle is Das Hermetische Museum.
Primary title : Alchemie und Mystik, Alexander Roob, pub. Taschen.
Over 700 pages, an image on almost every page. Some of the colour seems a
little harsh.
I wonder if anyone knows this book, Adam, what your opinion is, as a German
reader. Excuse me if this is redundant. (or please delete!)

Best Regards,
Michal

Subject: ART - Alchemy and Picasso
From: Stuart Inman
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 1997 12:56:23 GMT

Regarding the Picasso and Alchemy site, I find myself unconvinced and
the material reeking of crankiness.

I would say that too much depends upon the subjectivity of the viewer
and it is largely a case of "delirium of interpretation". The fact
that one can see a form within a form does not mean that it is there,
only that one percieves it. This subjective perception has its own
validity, at least for the person who sees it. This is the basis of
my own photography, which stems from the surrealist tradition, and
from "Leonardo's wall".

It is quite possible that Picasso picked up a smattering of occult
lore from surrealist friends such as Victor Brauner, who certainly
knew a lot and put much of it in his paintings, even from Andre
Breton, who knew enough to refer to the tradition in the manifestoes
(and was later to lean far more on the Hermetic Tradition in works
like Arcane 17), but Picasso does not, as far as I am aware, express
any great interest in these matters. Certainly he was interested in
mythology, but that does not seem to go further than more
conventional interpretations can encompass.

My own interim judgement is therefore that the case is at best
unproven (depending on the verification of a drawing as far as I can
see couild be by an imitator anyway) and at worst, nonsense.

Stuart Inman

Subject: ART - Roob's book
From: Beat Krummenacher
Date: 22 Jan 97 18:26:19 EST

Dear Michal,

I have the book 'Das Hermetische Museum. Primary title : Alchemie und Mystik,
Alexander Roob, 1996, ISBN 3-8228-8803-6.

The interpretations of the author are of course interesting but hardly useful.
One quickly sees, that the author has more argued with alchemy and its artistic
aspects than with the practical realization in the lab. Therefore it is not
remarkable, that some of his interpretations fully miss.

Nevertheless: The book is as a collection of unusually many alchemical pictures
useful. There is as far as I know no comparable book showing so many pictures to
such an extent at the low price.

Sincerely
Beat

Subject: ART - Alciato website
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 1997 17:53:50 -0600 (CST)
From: George Leake

Just a quick note. Found a website you might be interested in:
http://www.mun.ca/alciato/

from the website itself:

Andrea Alciato's Emblematum liber or Book of Emblems had enormous
influence and popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a collection
of 212 Latin emblem poems, each consisting of a motto (a proverb or
other short enigmatic expression), a picture, and an epigrammatic text.

Alciato's book was first published in 1531, and was expanded in various
editions during the author's lifetime. It began a craze for emblem poetry
that lasted for several centuries. We use the Latin text and images from an
important edition of 1621 and we give a translation into English.

Subject: ART - Remedios Varo
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 1997 11:06:16 +1100 (EST)
From: Gionni Di Gravio

Is anyone familiar with the artist Remedios Varo? The talk concerning
Picasso has reminded me of her later work which is quite beautiful and
magical. She was associated with the surrealists and lay in their shadow
for the majority of her life. The paintings had a very derivative feel
about them as though she had been locked into the surrealist thing.

Then, for the last ten years of her life she came up with work which was
brilliant and almost looked as though painted by another artist. She
surpassed them all. There's a beautiful painting of a woman feeding an
encaged moon with little stars.

Sincerely,

Gionni Di Gravio

Subject: Art - Picasso
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 00:59:42 +0100
From: Maurizio Nicosia

I have visited the site that proposes an alchemical reading of a sketch
of Picasso. Apart from the monstrous slowness, I would want immediately
to express my doubts on this relationship. Picasso has painted many
paintings mixed with primitivism, since "Les damoiselles d'Avignon,"
but nobody, that I know, has seriously advanced the hypothesis of a
"totemical" reading of these his works.

When Picasso draws to any subject, and he has drawn to full hands
everywhere, (his friends artists covered their works when Picasso
arrived in their ateliers), this is always because of the formal
relationships that the subject manifests. In first place, however, it is
from the emphasize that the site, as it honestly tells us, "is devoted to the
authentication of a previously unknown Picasso". Supposed therefore that
it is an authentic work, and of the 1934, it is possible that Picasso
heard at that time some people speak about alchemy: his surrealist
friends at the time frequented Canseliet and they above all followed
conversations of RenÚ Alleau on the matter (a student of Canseliet has
communicated me about this). Suppose therefore that the sketch is
authentic and that Picasso has heard some people speaking about
alchemy, it doesn't automatically result from this that Picasso indeed
took an interest of alchemy. He could superficially attract from it,
supposed that he had attracted, for the "fantastic" figuration or for
the language apparently "surrealist," built for oxymors (?).

There has been a recent epoch in Italy in which Heidegger has had a
certain fortune and it often felt quote the "dasein", but property few
knew Heidegger and more less the German really. A picture with a Mercury
doesn't imply necessarily that the painter knows the hermetic CODE,
and not even the myths that involve the messenger of the gods.
"Beware", said Melotti (an Italian sculptor that I have already quoted
in the preceding forum) "of whom throws a fist of sand on the table and
says to you: 'it is the desert' ".

But I think that it needs us to face a question of method in this e-mail group,
and I propose to do this as soon as I have the time.

With my best wishes

Maurizio Nicosia

Subject: ART - Picasso
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 16:09:12 -0600 (CST)
From: George Leake

>From: Maurizio Nicosia
>I have visited the site that proposes an alchemical reading of a sketch
>of Picasso. Apart from the monstrous slowness, I would want immediately
>to express my doubts on this relationship. Picasso has painted many
>paintings mixed with primitivism, since "Les damoiselles d'Avignon,"
>but nobody, that I know, has seriously advanced the hypothesis of a
>"totemical" reading of these his works.

I chalk this up to would-be scholars looking for new areas of study. This
has poisoned the air of current Tarot study--people will insist a Jungian
approach of their own to the exclusion of all else.

Suppose therefore that the sketch is
>authentic and that Picasso has heard some people speaking about
>alchemy, it doesn't automatically result from this that Picasso indeed
>took an interest of alchemy. He could superficially attract from it,
>supposed that he had attracted, for the "fantastic" figuration or for
>the language apparently "surrealist," built for oxymors (?).

Much more interesting and relevant are Tarot connections to surrealism.

What some people might assert is that Picasso's figures are
"transmutational" and thus, alchemical. That's good enough for some.

Subject: ART - Picasso and his "transmutational" figures
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 15:31:25 +0100
From: Maurizio Nicosia

I promise that I always labor to understand the messages in answer to me
from George Leake. Surely that depends on my reduced faculty of
comprehension and on my modest acquaintance with English. I will limit
myself therefore to add, to the end of his message, any affirmations
of Picasso that suggests that "some people that might assert
is that Picasso's figures are "transmutational" and thus, alchemical.
That's good enough for some".

1923 (from the magazine 'The arts', New York): "Nature and art could not
be the same thing. With art we mean the conception of what
nature is not... I feel often to pronounce the word evolution. For me there
is not past or future, in art... When I have found something to express,
I have done it without thinking about the past or the future...
Cubism is an art that draws a stadium of primary forms... A mineral
substance that has a geometric form is not made for transitory purposes;
it is permanent and always stays in its form...From the point of
view of art there is not concrete or abstract forms, but only forms.

1930 (from the magazine 'Formes', Paris): "I don't give any importance to
the subject, but I hold enormously to the object. Cubism pursues
some plastic (sculptural) purposes that are enough themself."

1935 (from the magazine 'Cahiers d'art'): "Everybody wants to understand
painting. Those that try to understand a picture, generally follow
wrong roads. A few days ago Gertrude Stein declared to me she was full
of happiness from having finally understood what is represented in my
picture: they are, she said, three musicians. It is instead a still-life."

Maurizio Nicosia