The Alchemical Artwork of Kurt Godwin

by Dennis William Hauck  

 

Alchemy is a curious blend of philosophy, mysticism, and science that dates back to ancient Egypt. The discipline flourished during the New Kingdom dynasties (1550-1050 BC) and saw a resurgence in Hellenistic Egypt. Tragically, most of the ancient teachings were lost in successive burnings of the Alexandrian libraries by Romans and Christians, and by 400 AD, all that survived were a few key texts that had been translated into Arabic. The Arabs referred to the chemical art of Egypt as al Khem (literally, “from the fertile black soil of the Nile”). Knowledge of al Khem spread through Babylon to the Orient and finally reached Europe with the Moorish invasion of Spain. By 1000 AD, the secret art of the Egyptians had captured the imagination of scholars in both East and West, and a new heyday of alchemy ensued which lasted over 800 years.

The late medieval period saw the discovery of acids, alcohols, and hundreds of new compounds in the alchemists’ pursuit of the “Philosopher's Stone,” which could instantly perfect anything and transmute base metals into pure gold. But the fascination with gold brought a new class of mercenary alchemists known as “puffers,” who sat at their furnaces constantly fanning their bellows, hoping to produce gold by working with external fires and never calling forth the inner, “secret fire” of the initiated alchemist. Using only physical methods and trickery, the puffers convinced princes and kings to finance their endeavours, although not a few went to the gallows when they were unable to produce more gold than they consumed. Spiritual alchemists suffered along with the puffers and were forced to practice their art in secrecy. Thus, modern chemistry was not derived from the Hermetic teachings passed down from Egypt; it actually arose from the erratic work of the puffers in the Middle Ages. By the early sixteenth century, alchemy was in philosophic disarray, until Paracelsus set a new course towards the pharmaceutical use of chemicals. Nonetheless other alchemists - notably John Dee and Isaac Newton - continued to work along mystical lines.

The demise of alchemy began in the late eighteenth century with the rationalization of science and the commercialization of chemistry. True alchemy could not sustain itself in the new atmosphere of materialism and industrialization because the key to success in the ancient art lay in being able to work simultaneously on all levels of reality – not only on the physical level but on the psychological and spiritual as well. The alchemist’s laboratory was a sacred place “between worlds” that could not be entered without becoming psychologically purified and spiritually energized, and things took place in the alchemist’s laboratory that could never be reproduced in a chemist’s lab. The central work in alchemy – the operation of the Stone – simply was not within reach of the chemist, for the methods involved the workings of an eagerness or inspiration, a fertilizing or generative element, suggesting that the alchemists had discovered some secret of life which, carried into metallurgy, produced effects unknown today. The basic tenet of alchemy has always been its chief paradox: All matter is alive.  

To some extent, all artists know that matter is alive. They know their medium has a life of its own – each material a history, a character, needs, and possibilities unlike any other – and they know they must feel and understand this life so that a creative relationship can exist between them. Like alchemy, true art can only be practiced by those who possess the inspired presence and purified consciousness necessary for creative transformation. The manipulations required for alchemical preparations can be taught to anyone, just as the techniques of art are available to any student. Yet the results such a person could accomplish would be without life – an alchemical stillbirth. For only the person in whom true life has awakened can in turn awaken it from its slumber in matter and cause new forms to grow and new consciousness to be created.

We see this alchemical life in the work of Kurt Godwin. His paintings leap forth in vibrant colors and embedded layers of structure and meaning. Inner and outer processes mirror one another and resonate in the eye of the beholder. With a firm grasp of Hermetic principles, the artist brings them to life on his canvas, much like an alchemist seeking to free the essence of the substance at hand in his lab. In fact, a medieval alchemist viewing these paintings would immediately recognize many of the images, symbols, and operations that Godwin has incorporated into his work. For the uninitiated, the experience is one of entering the inner sanctum where the secret traditions are transmitted. Viewing these paintings is being in the presence of an alchemist at work in his laboratory. 

Godwin manipulates the alchemical elements of Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Ether in much the same way as the same way as the alchemists did. He knows how the elements interact, how they balance one another, and how each expresses its archetypal signature within us and in the world around us. The dynamic colors in his paintings correspond to the same color-coded stages of transformation in the Great Work: from the blackness of putrefaction and death to the brilliant white of purification and the soul’s rebirth; from the golden yellow promise of fermentation and growth to the deep red color of triumphant spirit and the Living Stone.  

The secret operations of the alchemists are all here, concealed in plain view in glass houses, symbolic beings, ouroboric circles, and forceful triangles. Orient yourself along the axis of the vertical wheel and feel the heavenly processes of Distillation and Fermentation; return to the horizontal plane of the carousel and immerse yourself in the worldly operations of Calcination, Dissolution, and Conjunction. Connect with the circular perfection of the Above and the Below, see how they interact and change, and you too will be transformed.

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         The Art of Kurt Godwin

The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine (Statement by Artist)

Key One  Key Seven
Key Two Key Eight
Key Three Key Nine
Key Four  Key Ten
Key Five Key Eleven
Key Six Key Twelve

The Philosophy of Nature Series (Statement by Artist)

The original works linked to above are for sale directly from the artist, Kurt Godwin kgodwin909@verizon.net . The artist also welcomes feedback and comments on the alchemical significance of his work. Please note that all artwork in this section is copyrighted. © Kurt Godwin. All Rights Reserved. See www.AlchemyGallery.com for other works by Kurt Godwin.