Individuation and the Alchemical Process
Man has always approached the beginning and end of eras archetypally as a time of peril and doom. Today, we also usher the end of an epoch with a sense of profound insecurity and uncertainty as the advent of this new world will necessitate new ways of living (in distance) and existing together on this earth. Never before in modern history has humanity experienced such levels of alienation and isolation. Never before have we become so distant to one another.
Humanity is collectively bound by a crippling fear that bleakness and instability is the only likely certainty that the future holds. With the world brought to its knees, the invisible and sinister pandemic has also brought with it the collapse of the cultural canon and the complete erosion of human modes of existence. We watch in trepidation as doctors and nurses die in vain. We witness the obliteration of an entire generation as many of our elderly suffer and die alone. With much of the world in lockdown, we watch on helplessly as world dissolution ripens before our very eyes.
With the breakdown of the world of security comes the disintegration of all that is known and certain to man, plunging him into a state of darkness, or as the alchemists called it, the blackness, or the ‘nigredo’.
‘Nigredo’ - the first of the three stages in the alchemical process, which begins in death and decay. It is the blackness and chaos of the ‘Prima Materia’ which brings about the disintegration of distinction and forms. For the individual, this involves the draining of the psychic libido into the darkness. But as we fall back into the chaotic state of prima materia, we also surrender ourselves to a process in which our psyche returns to its state of origination.
The three stages in the alchemical process can also be interpreted as a means of marking one's psychological development in the individuation process. The first stage in the process of individuation first begins when consciousness discovers its own world (the Real Self), this is followed by the second stage through discovery of the world of others (the Individuate Self), and finally the third stage, the ‘rubedo’, the consciousness discovers the divine world (the divine self).
Completed over the course of the first few weeks of Spring 2020 just as the United Kingdom was put into lockdown in an unprecedented step to attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus. These paintings form part of a series entitled 'Spring is Here (But We Are Not)'. They are mental and visual projections of each of the three stages in the alchemical process, nigredo (the blackening), albedo (the whitening), and rubedo (the reddening).
“The first state is the hidden state, but by art and the grace of God it can be transmuted into a second, manifest state. That is why “the prima materia sometimes coincides with the idea of the initial stage of the process, the nigredo. It is then the black earth in which the gold or the lapis is shown like the grain of wheat. It is the black.” Carl Jung, (Psychology and Alchemy)
The first work, ‘Prima Materia’ is a mental and visual projection of the first stage in the alchemical process, the nigredo, or the blackening. ‘Nigredo’ is the blackness and chaos of the ‘Prima Materia’, which brings about the disintegration of distinction and forms. For the individual, this involves the draining of the psychic libido into the darkness. But as we fall back into the chaotic state of prima materia, we also surrender ourselves to a process in which our psyche returns to its state of origination.
According to Carl Jung, the prima materia’ coincides with the idea of the first stage of the alchemical process, the nigredo (C. J. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy). ‘Prima Materia’ is an attempt to render the formless state of a world of the beginning in a visual form: a protoplasm, a primordial pool mingling death and decay with life and birth—amorphous and atonal, discordant and disharmonious.
Painted without conscious intent or control but guided by the contents and currents of the unconscious, ‘Prima Materia’ is therefore also an encapsulation of painting in its autochthonic form. Here is a visual projection of the primordial pool in which forms and colours intermingle with fragmented landscapes and spectral sceneries suspended in a stream, a timeless continuum - the dark substrate of the anonymous and absolute unconscious.
'Another Dimension With You'
“From the darkness of the unconscious comes the light of illumination, the albedo.”
- Carl Jung (Mysterium Coniunctionis)
- Carl Jung (Mysterium Coniunctionis)
Then follows the second work. ‘Another Dimension With You’ is a mental and visual projection of the second stage in the alchemical process of transformation -- the albedo (the whitening), which follows the dark night of the chaos and often represented as the rising sun in the morning, the crack of dawn, the sol oriens.
An important component in the alchemical process, is the aqua permanens, or ‘the divine water’, in which physical and psychological bodies are dissolved into their constituent elements to form a ‘solutio’. This ‘divine water’ transforms the ‘nigredo' into the second stage of the alchemical process - the ‘albedo' or the whitening - whereby the light of illumination emerges from the darkness of the unconscious.
In ‘Another Dimension With You’, the ‘aqua permanens’ is expressed as a luminous cascade, waterfall, a spring, flowing elixir drenched in white light. It begs us to ponder upon the nature of water in characterising processes of transformation.
'The Mouth of Truth'
“I hold the view that the alchemist’s hope of conjuring out of matter the philosophical gold, or the panacea, or the wonderful stone, was only in part an illusion, an effect of projection; for the rest it corresponded to certain psychic facts that are of great importance in the psychology of the unconscious. As is shown by the texts and their symbolism, the alchemist projected what I have called the process of individuation into the phenomena of chemical change.” - Carl Jung (Psychology and Alchemy)
Marked by the passage of the sun, the stages in the alchemical process can also be seen as a measure of time and the phases of life. In alchemy, red comes after white: just as the morning comes after sunrise. and after sunrise the full sun. The completion of the alchemical opus is expressed as the midday position of the sun - when the sun reaches its zenith, the meaning of the day is fulfilled.
In ‘albedo’, or the state of whiteness, one exists in an idealised state of abstraction. According to Jung, in order to experience the totality of being, one must progress from this ideal state into a ‘fully human mode of existence’.This third stage is the ‘rubedo’, or the ‘reddening’ whereby one comes alive through the life giving blood and the redness of life.
“Blood alone can reanimate a glorious state of consciousness in which the last trace of blackness is dissolved, in which the devil no longer has an autonomous existence but rejoins the profound unity of the psyche. Then the opus magnum is finished: the human soul is completely integrated.” Carl Jung (Mysterium Coniunctionis)
The third painting, ‘The Mouth of Truth’, evokes a simulation of the transition from ‘albedo’ into ‘rubedo’. This third and final phase in the alchemical opus is the highest stage of the development of consciousness, whereby the individual attains the ultimate goal of the unified self. His/her vision extends beyond earthly and material experiences.
The alchemical attempt to transmute metals into gold became a metaphor for an inner psychological process whereby the spirit evolves from a state of imperfection, as symbolised by the base metals, to a higher state of consciousness - the attainment of enlightenment and perfection, as symbolised by the transmutation of metals into gold.
This painting seeks to project a vision of being in this enlightened state of existence. Consciousness has reached its golden state, chaos is transformed into meaning, lead into gold -- the completed and perfected form of the metals, the attainment of the individuated self.
Painted ‘wet in wet’ using monochrome tone colours and an array of reflective paints such as iridescent and interference paints. The artist completed a painting a day, each in one single session.
A central effort permeates all these works –– each striving to be a faithful mental and visual projection of the inner psychic workings that take places in the process of individuation.