Alchemy-themed art show in Brooklyn

Pam Grossman of Phantasmaphile is curating an intriguing alchemy art show at Brooklyn's Observatory Room, opening May 7. The show, featuring a dozen artists, runs until June 12. Painting above by Jesse Bransford, below by Robert M. place. From the show description:
Robertmplacecaduceus Like dreams, alchemy speaks in pictures. At first glimpse, alchemical manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries look like a panoply of hallucinations. They feature images of fornicating kings and queens. Suns and moons shining in stereo. Lions and serpents and eggs, oh my. Black and white and red all over. Secret codes and effulgent iconographies teeming with meaning, yet ultimately ineffable. These pictures beget picturing. They're signs that beg to be resignified; to be reinterpreted and refined.

The participants in ALCHEMICALLY YOURS have done just that. Varying in medium and style, each piece in this exhibition pays homage to the alchemic tradition -- all the while affirming that the artist fills the role of alchemist in the present-day. For who better can elevate the mundane, turn the sub- into the sublime?



  1. Alas, the numbers 15 and 16 are never represented by Jewish alchemists as they are with the Hebrew letters indicated in the first print (15 as ×™×” and 16 as יו), the reason being that the former is one of the divine names in the Torah, and the latter together with the former, form another divine name in the Torah — the Tetragrammaton. 15 and 16 are thus by convention always indicated using the letters טו and טז, respectively.

  2. Zite turned up a wonderful paper for me by a Philip Ball, Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour. Apparently Alchemists were used by painters as the source of pigments.

    “Even today, alchemy is still widely misunderstood. The popular images are of crazy old men boiling up potions to turn lead to gold, or charlatans getting rich by convincing gullible kings that they can perform this transformation. Some alchemy was like this, but much of it is more aptly regarded as pre-scientific chemical technology. The Italian craftsman Cennino Cennini wrote a craftsman’s manual around 1390 describing the many pigments then available and how they might be obtained, made and used. He mentions alchemy frequently – but not as an esoteric or mystical art. Instead, he regards it simply as a convenient manufacturing method for his colours.

    It is no coincidence that alchemists were making colours for artists. Colour is central to alchemy. To make the Philosopher’s Stone, the substance that could allegedly transform base metals to gold, one had to conduct chemical reactions that would take the raw materials through a specified sequence of colour changes. So it is not surprising that the alchemists tended to focus their attention on the substances that offered a wide range of different colours. These turned out to be many of the same materials that artists were using as pigment”

  3. @ spaceling
    While it may be that the Hebrew letters you mention hold that connotation in some circles there are other [albeit not orthodox Judaism] traditions that employ the numerical values assigned to Hebrew. In the Magic Squares shown above the Hebrew is consistent with that shown in influential books in the esoteric tradition. For instance here are the Magic Squares of Mercury in Francis Barrett’s Magus:

    The same square is to be found in the Alchemical-Kabbalistic text Aesch Mezareph and is called me-zahav, it is the square for the ‘water of gold’. Unfortunately the original Hebrew text of this book is lost and perhaps casts further doubt on the Hebrew usage as you point out. Still as with all proper magic squares the sum of the various lines must add up to the same figure in order for the square to be ‘magic’ and the change in Hebrew letters you propose would negate the intrinsic nature of the square.

    The blind copying of manuscripts, with all the errors that such copying can bring does not bode well for the preservation of a tradition, but it must be realized that there are different traditions to be preserved, which may or may not fit into contemporary views. In the case of esotericism one often encounters a synthesis of various traditions a trait consistent with its own approach.

    I wish I could attend this artshow, it looks like great fun!

  4. Anyone up for some original poetry? (hope ya like it!)

    The Alchemy of the Artist – C. Fisher

    For years they sought to transubstantiate
    Those Wizened Old Men whose hearts had
    Hardened into that substance they sought to alter.

    The Alchemists puttered and fretted about
    In their dank and dusty laboratories
    Hiding their secrets and revealing no mysteries.

    They tightened their grips on Nature bending Her,
    Twisting Her, but never really understanding Her
    Or taking time to revel in Her delights.

    They were no magicians, only charlatans with
    Solid work ethics and even more demanding
    Ethics of Brotherhood.

    Meanwhile . . .

    In the attics and in streets, in poverty
    In plain sight, hid the true wizards
    And they danced and sang and drank and drugged.

    They were imps and fools, thieves and adulterers,
    But they were full of magic, of that most uncanny ability
    And so it was with every pencil stroke that artists

    Turned lead into gold.

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