ART and ALCHEMY
By: Tony Bianco
The art of painting and the art of alchemy are kindred spirits, as they are both concerned with changing, deconstructing, and re-creating matter to produce something more valuable. From the ancient Egyptians to sixteenth-century European scientists, the search for a way to turn lead into gold intrigued western culture until the birth of modern chemistry.
Our lives are often filled with the mundane and common things of this world; the dreary lead of day to day. It’s been said that life bears down and wearies the soul, whereas art reminds us that we have one.
This is the business I find myself in. It is a strange business, and many find no particular need for it, really. We all know you can’t turn lead into gold. And yet, there are moments or seasons in life when we all recognize the transcendent, the spiritual, or the speaking of the soul. Common day-to-day occurrences will suddenly become deep, meaningful experiences. As an artist, my concern is with documenting and reminding us of those transitional moments.Gold was used by the Byzantine painters to illustrate holy subjects. It was used by the Egyptians in their art to prepare for the afterlife. There is along history of alluding to the spiritual by including the precious metal in our art.More recently, artists like Gustav Klimt and Damien Hirst have found gold to be a powerful metaphor in their work.And so I found myself in good company when I began to experiment with gold in my paintings. In an effort to make my work more spiritual, it seemed a natural progression. In a way, it’s like adding a new color to my palette, a color that symbolizes purity, value, and higher things. When I include it in a painting, I am always trying to say more than merely the subject itself. I’m seeking the valuable and spiritual essence of the thing,and gold helps me to do that.
The process itself is simple and complex, much like art and life. Thin hammered wafers of gold leaf are attached to the surface using special adhesives. The leaf is extremely thin; my breath alone can send it fluttering hopelessly across the studio. Often, static electricity is used to position the leaf, a charge being produced by running a brush through my hair. The “charged “ brush will magically lift and hold the fragile leaf until it is transferred to the painting. The leaf is burnished, and the painting begins. Often I distress the work, rubbing back and glazing over the surface to create something timeless and ethereal. The gold goes through many stages of becoming lost and found again, until the final state of the painting appears. A rich luminosity is often the result, as the metal reflects light like a mirror, through the layers of translucent oil. An effect like stained glass is the result, something that can’t be obtained any other way in traditional painting techniques.
Like the alchemists and artists before me, I am constantly seeking ways to convert the common into the miraculous. That is the reason for all art. It is a daunting task, but it is also a rewarding and, I believe, a worthwhile one.