Alchemy with Light
Alchemy Experiment No.4 / 2012 / Terry Long
Painting with light gives you the feeling that you are working within the field of alchemy or magic. It is the most exciting art medium that I have ever used, with it’s combination of drawing, painting, design, and photography. The image below was a painting with light demonstration for some of my students. The white wall of the studio was painted first with several standard flashlights/torches that were covered in different colored filters. The two photographic lamps were not turned on, although they appear to be. They were painted with two narrow beamed colored LED lights. The exposure was 30 seconds at f22 in a completely darkened studio.
I am very interested in artwork relating to alchemy, and in particular the illustrations to the writings of Robert Fludd. Fludd (1574-1637) was a respected English physician employed at the court of King James I of England. He was a prolific writer of vast, multi-volume encyclopaedias in which he discussed a universal range of topics from magical practices such as alchemy, astrology, kabbalism and fortune-telling, to radical theological thinking concerning the inter-relation of God with the natural and human worlds. However, he also proudly displayed his grasp of practical knowledge, such as mechanics, architecture, military fortifications, armaments, military manoeuvres, hydrology, musical theory and musical instruments, mathematics, geometry, optics and the art of drawing, as well as chemistry and medicine. All of Fludd’s treatises were lavishly illustrated with extraordinary engravings, unique in their form and subject-matter, which have the visionary quality of a genuine spiritual seer and which exerted an influence on his contemporary occultists such as Michael Maier, Jacob Boehme and Johannes Mylius. Fludd himself designed these images and they were engraved by the artisans employed at his publishers. Some of his own original drawings still exist.
Claims are sometimes made that Leonardo da Vinci was an alchemist. He was trained in the workshop of Verrocchio, who according to Vasari, was an able alchemist. Leonardo was a chemist in so much as that he experimented with different media for suspending paint pigment. In the painting of murals, his experiments resulted in notorious failures with the Last Supper deteriorating within a century, and the Battle of Anghiari running off the wall. In Leonardo’s many pages of notes about artistic processes, there are some that pertain to the use of silver and gold in artworks, information he would have learnt as a student.
Leonardo’s scientific process was based mainly upon observation. His practical experiments are also founded in observation rather than belief. Leonardo, who questioned the order of the solar system and the deposit of fossils by the Great Flood, had little time for the alchemical quests to turn lead into gold or create a potion that gave eternal life.
Leonardo’s Globe / 2010 / Terry Long
Leonardo’s globe was partly a fanciful idea of the kind of experiment that Leonardo da Vinci could have devised, and partly based on his drawing of a deluge shown below.
Deluge by Leonardo da Vinci