Alchemical paintings of Kurt Godwin

Back to Contemporary artists influenced by alchemy

Carousel/Alchemy series based on "The Twelve Keys of Basil Valentine'.

These paintings, in various combination, have been in several two man shows at local colleges and Universities and currently the ten paintings completed at this point are part of a solo show at the University of Maryland. Although I don't assume the average viewer to be well versed on the subject, many have at least become aware of the spiritual aspect to alchemy. While these paintings can be appreciated solely from their color and compositional aspects, people respond strongly to the alchemical content without prior knowledge of its significance. Perhaps this gives some credence to Jung's thoughts on the nature of this imagery as rooted in mankind's collective unconscious.

Out of respect for the complex symbolic significance of these historic pictures it is important to me that these images would not be manipulated. Any alteration would alter the intent of the symbolism, whether or not its meaning is understood at this time. This series is part of an evolution of work that began with depictions of ferris wheels, and then carousels, as metaphors for the karmic wheels of life and fortune. My dilemma on how to gracefully assimilate my interest with alchemy with my painting ideas was solved by using the carousel platform as a stage.

A few incidental notes on these paintings:
The palette used for Keys 4 and 12 derived from the sequence of colors as they appear during the course of the Great Work. For Key 4 this color scheme reads from left to right, black, white, yellow and red the most commonly noted order. Key 12 uses a more elaborate order of black, white, yellow, orange, violet and red. - The three Keys that use a prominent circular motif, nos 7, 9, and eventually 10, are juxtaposed with ferris wheels instead of the carousel and are on a slightly smaller scale. - The only significant alteration to the Keys is the illumination of some of the background. For pictorial reasons I had to (regrettably) "open" the windows of the wall behind the target. - I compare the overall effect of these paintings to a complex embroidered mandala.

First Key
Second Key
Third Key
Fourth Key
Fifth Key
Sixth Key
Seventh Key
Eighth Key
Ninth Key
Tenth Key
Eleventh Key
Twelfth Key

Geometrical deconstructions of the keys:
Geometrical deconstruction of fifth key
Geometrical deconstruction of eighth key
Geometrical deconstruction of twelfth key

Other paintings with an alchemical theme:

The Carousel/Alchemy Paintings (1997-1999)
Artists Statement - Kurt Godwin
The carousel, as a metaphor, has several universal connotations generally dealing with the idealized innocence of youth. As a ride that revolves, (similarly with the ferris wheel), its circular path can also signify of the Wheel(s) of Life & Fortune. Combining these views of the carousels symbolism: innocence lost, the constancy of life, and fate, are an allusion to the individual, and society at large, poised in time at the end of this century and the beginning of the new millennium.
The fantastic, surrealistic images of the 17th c. alchemy text, The 12 Keys of Basil Valentine, were intentionally heavily coded, metaphorical allegories that pertain to the procedures of the alchemical 'great work'. This great work has been interpreted as achieving the ability to turn base metal into gold. While the exact definitions of these mysterious pictures are now lost to us, one interpretation developed by psychologist Carl Jung identifies this type of image as universal archetypes of the collective unconscious. A more complete assessment of alchemy and the imagery related to it is in the personal search and struggle for a higher self awareness or enlightenment, a purpose believed to be the actual, primary goal of the true alchemical philosophers.
In this way I construe these two images to be related: The carousel depicts the "conscious" world image of life's path and the alchemy image depicts the "unconscious" spiritual counterpart. This is also an example of the alchemist search for the union of opposites. The origins of the carousel as a devise to train medieval royal youth in the ways of war presents another dichotomy in combination with its more well known, carefree nature.
The alchemy images used are reproduced in their original form, treated as flat, two dimensional drawings to retain its role as a symbol. Superimposed over the carousel the alchemy figure, colorless in itself, take on the colors of the carousel, altering them where they overlap. The carousel becomes a stage for the alchemical scenarios. The interplay of the "real" and "imagined" blur and shift. Perspective space is implied yet confounded with ambiguity.
This imagery woven together combined with orchestrated systems of color combinations result in structures closer to the mandala than western pictorial devices. Although the content derives from western civilization the resulting abstract, layering suggests the contemplative nature of the east. As with the yin/yang, eastern symbol for the unification of opposites, it becomes clear how profound yet simple, elemental truths can be. As we face the unknown of the future it is important to realize the essence of some forgotten truths from the past.

Kurt Godwin

copyright 1999 Kurt Godwin all rights reserved.
Alchemical texts

16th Century
Practical alchemy
Philosophical alchemy

17th Century
Practical alchemy
Philosophical alchemy

18th Century
Practical alchemy
Philosophical alchemy

Alchemical poetry

Alchemical allegories

Works of Nicolas Flamel
Works of George Ripley
Works of Sendivogius
Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum
Emerald tablet of Hermes
Rosicrucian texts
Literary works
Texts from Musaeum Hermeticum

Spanish alchemical texts
German alchemical texts
French alchemical texts
Russian alchemical texts
Italian alchemical texts

Study Courses

Alchemical, astrological and
emblematic art prints

Alchemy and art

Art books Series

Study course on Bosch's
Garden of Earthly Delights

New Hieronymus Bosch Website