Category: The alchemy of demolition

I thought it might be interesting to have the texts and some images from the exhibit posted here for people who couldn’t make it to the show.


The Alchemical Theatre

(20″ x 16″) Pieces of a demolished theatre, poplar, gold


Saddened by the demolition of the old Little Theatre I took pieces of the building, gilded them and mounted them in boxes. The ten pieces of the building help to preserve the memories of the many events that were rehearsed and performed in the building. The destruction of the old gives birth to the new.



The Aviator’s Dream

(48″ x 84″) Oil on canvas


There are three mythical events happening in this painting: the loss of Amelia Earhart, the fall of Icarus (his winged father Daedalus to the left), and the destruction of the World Trade Center. The ivy growing over poor Amelia suggests the passing of time, and possible reconciliation, while the rose alludes to the blood of Christ, the timeless love and healing offered by God.


As the Crow Flies

(dimensions vary) Oil on canvassed panel, 77 birch panels, amalgam leaf


The first step of the alchemical work is to locate pure examples of the elements, burning them to reduce them to their core constituents. This process is called the nigredo, because the material is reduced to black ash and dross, while the pure essence is distilled and separated. In alchemical symbolism black birds are one image describing this process. I have used them here to illustrate my spiritual journey, in which I have attempted to find my role within God and do away with the dregs of life in favor of trying to understand that universal mind: like the recreation of the prima materia this is ultimately impossible, but worth the journey.



(48″ x 84″) Oil on canvas


The painting alludes to the hermit in the desert, a mystical person in search of universal truth. In his circle, the hermit is surrounded by the four elements, air, earth, fire and water, while he has the pillars of duality on either side. His gesture to the earth and sky refer to the alchemical principle that what is here on earth must correspond to what is in the cosmos, while the staff reminds us that wherever God is in relation to the creation, there is a spiritual relationship between us and him; the third part of any duality. Look for the divine ratio.



(48″ x 84″) Oil on canvas


The stones in this painting are laid out on the ground in the shape of a cross, while there are two pieces of paper attached to the foreground megaliths. Sharp-eyed observers will see the names of the two prime manifestoes of the Rosicrucian order written on them. The objects on the rock suggest a modern date, but the setting is archaic – the suggestion is that the ideals of the reforming Christian mystics are true in the past and the future.


The Reluctant Death of Modernism

(59″ x 53″) Oil on Canvas


An allegorical painting about the end of the modern era. Andy Warhol’s soup can lies crushed and broken on the desert floor, while a pregnant woman contemplates her child, wondering what to expect.




Three Wishes

(18″ x 11″) Oil on oak panel

Holed stones have been used for thousands of years for sealing agreements, making promises and binding marriages. Looking through the hole in a stone is said to make it possible to see into the other world, usually invisible to mortals. The stones are also used for making wishes, so you are invited to make your wishes here.



(Dimensions vary) Oil on canvassed panel, clay cups, beeswax, string, electric motor, stone


Small cups show up repeatedly in British Neolithic gravesites and sacred spaces. I chose to make a mound of these roughly made grail cups as a cairn, suggesting that many people have come seeking the mystical grail, and left their personal grail behind, realizing that the true grail is a spiritual discovery, not a material object. The search dates back thousands of years and at heart it’s a search for union with God, looked for in every age and country.



Self-portrait with wafer

(29″ x 16″) Oil on canvas


The communion wafer is in the shape of the circular monad, the Pythagorean symbol of God.



Sleeping woman

(22″ x 14″)


The initiate sleeps before waking.



Singer (Study for a crucifixion)

(36″ x 24″)


The singer ululates at the death of Christ.


Invitation to a lynching

(65″ x 71″) Oil on canvas


What do you do with the crucifixion? This painting places you, the viewer, into the crowd watching as the death of the Christ takes place. Which person do you most resemble?

The models for the twenty-seven figures in the painting are all in it twice, except one. It took seven years to complete. After a year and a half of work it was removed from the stretcher bars and stored on a roll in a closet until this summer, when it was re-stretched and completed.


A Neolithic Wedding

(54″, 42″) Oil on canvassed panel


One third (the right hand panel) of a planned but never completed triptych, the painting shows a mother and daughter on their way to a wedding three thousand years ago. The two women are our ancestors, passing the open tomb of their own forebears. We owe everything we are to our ancestors, who survived through dangers that would kill modern humans in a moment. The other two panels were to show a father and son on the left side, and a shaman at centre, all set before a Neolithic chambered cairn. 

I loaded the boxes into the car and drove toward the freeway, buoyed by the lovely smell of freshly cut poplar. I don’t think I have ever bent as many finishing nails as I did nailing these things together. The wood is hard and strong.

I resolved to play nothing but Pink Floyd as I worked, as a small tribute to Rick Wright, the keyboard player, whose music has been in my tape player, on my record deck, then in my cd player and finally my iPod for the past two decades, since hearing Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon for the first time at boarding school in the late seventies and early eighties. Wright died yesterday. 

My morning was productive, and I got seven of the pieces of the building almost completely mounted in their boxes. I really like the way these have turned out. Mike Adams took pictures this afternoon, so perhaps we’ll be able to produce some cards of them for CLU alumni who feel particularly involved in the theatre department.


I have to trim the remaining three to fit their boxes, and add some backing material to some of them to tidy up their positions, Right now I’ll show them in their present condition, but I’d like to stain and varnish the boxes when I have some time.

I think I’ll call this piece Alchemical Theatre. It will be a gift to the theatre department after the exhibit comes down.

Mike has produced a fabulous little brochure for the show, the first of a series that we are able to produce this academic year thanks to our President Chris Kimball. (Chris ROCKS!)

I spent the day in my hot garage shop putting the boxes together using that nice poplar I picked up the other day. I finished this afternoon, so that installation is looking good to go.

Thank God for power tools! Not too long ago I would have had to hand cut and mitre every single piece of wood used in the boxes. All I need to do to these now is paint the interiors black, then mount the gold leafed pieces into them, trapping them inside with the back plate you see resting on top of the quarter round molding set behind the leading edge. Cameron spent a couple of hours touching up gold leaf omissions on the actual pieces, so we’re really close to completion. It’s satisfying to have finished these, but I need to stay focused on what needs to be done to get everything done. Tonight I’ll pick up the circle I need for the cone piece, which I haven’t even started making yet! Fortunately it’s pretty simple, and I know exactly what I need to do to make it, so it’s a simple matter of actually doing the work. I’ll be using my drill press a lot this evening making the holes for the string that will connect the edge of the circle, suspended at ceiling height, to the donut near the floor.

I’m missing painting a bit, looking forward to getting back to the peace and solitude of the studio. 



I spent a couple of hours cutting the poplar to size and building three of the ten boxes I need for the installation. I am NOT a good carpenter, so it takes me a long time to get these things made. It’s six o’clock and I’m making stupid mistakes now, so I’m stopping, moving into the office to read my encyclopedia of alchemy and relaxing for a while. It’s about time for a drop of that french wine I have stowed in the fridge, now that I think of it.

I’m getting increasingly interested in the relationship between alchemy and early tarocchi playing cards and keep finding images in the encyclopedia that correspond to the images found on the early cards. I bought a well known book, The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza Family – An Iconographic and Historical Study by Moakley Gertrude that relates the cards to a procession of triumphs, and wonder if these neo-platonic images are related to each other. The book’s almost impossible to find any more, being long out of print.

I picked up the wood for the boxes at Home Depot – spent several hundred dollars – choosing some nice poplar for the task, with some 1/2″ quarter round molding to keep the pieces in place in the boxes. I also provided for a 1″ x 6″  bar that will span the back of each box to allow for a pair of hangers to be attached.

As far as finish goes, I think the insides of the boxes will be flat black, but the outsides will need to be stained and varnished. Perhaps that can wait until later though.

My next task today is to find more crows and ravens in my collection of photos.

The gold is almost all down, following my magnificent assistant’s valiant efforts this afternoon. We’ll need to do some touch up work Monday, because the three dimensional nature of the pieces of the building make gilding them very difficult, so there are some significant gaps that will need care and attention. I intend to make the boxes that will contain the pieces this weekend in my shop at home, and expect to have to trim some funky bits from the pieces to fit them into a uniform box. It’s important to me that the boxes are all the same, as I want to display them in an equilateral tetractys triangle. The pythagoreans thought of the tetractys as a holy symbol, as it incorporates all the numbers between one and ten within the triangle (three). 

In the pictures you see Cameron mopping the gold leaf after applying it to the tacky size. I’m so pleased that he’s able to help, I’d be buried under the amount of work there is to do alongside my teaching responsibilities and administrative duties. I’m feeling bad that I haven’t been able to get better information to Mike Adams, who’s helping me immensely by putting together a brochure for the show, despite my flakiness in providing the information he needs. (Sorry Mike) Getting publicity materials together is so important. If you don’t get your name and work onto people’s refrigerators you’re invisible!

By the way, Mike has a new website and blog. Go check it out, he can paint!

I fixed the cutout sections, using plenty of epoxy resin to make sure they won’t fall apart again, then sprayed them with a coat of that red primer, which will both seal the surface and give the gold paint something to stick to. The project is gradually taking shape now. I hope to get the gilding finished today.

Steve Aufhauser came over to talk about paint and brushes with the students, which was a treat – I always learn something from Steve, and today was no exception. Did you know that the filbert brush (my favorite shape) was invented when someone bashed the metal end of a round brush flat, compressing the bristle into that lovely curved shape? Or that the Egbert brush is a long bristled filbert? (I have a couple, but seldom use them)

There’s a picture of him brandishing an enormous scenic painter’s brush on the Art Department blog.

I did a test run on one of the pieces of the building, applying some of the gilding methods I had learned from the crows piece. I wondered how the gold would work over bright gold spray paint, so compared the door piece painted with the bright gold with a piece of metal panelling which was gilded over the bright gold. 

As you can see, the gilded panel is more reflective and brighter than the spray painted one, even though this is the brightest, glossiest gold in a spray-can you can get. The sheet metal wall siding was primed with some red oxide undercoat, then sprayed with gold paint, then sized and gilded. I think it’s a much cleaner finish than we achieved with the gold leaf over the white background, but we couldn’t change halfway. However, it’s food for thought for the future. By the way, I bet a professional gilder would shudder at the idea of gilding over a sprayed gold finish!

The process of getting the installation ready is beginning to heat up as the date comes closer. It’s beginning to feel as if we will never see the end of the gilding. Cameron and I continued to lay gold down onto the panels, and got a large number of the bigger ones done today, but we still have fifteen more pieces to do. I’m confident that we’ll get them finished. I’m a little more concerned that the Alchemy of Demolition piece really hasn’t gone further yet, but perhaps I’ll be able to make some progress with this now I’m feeling more relaxed about the Crows piece.

I need to get a pickup truck out to the home depot to pick up some plywood for the floor that will go beneath the gravel circle, and I have to scribe a circle on it and cut it out, not terribly hard, but time-consuming. 

I want to make a new piece that illustrates the microcosm and the macrocosm, with a donut suspended close to the ground by 360 pieces of string from a large disc that is hung from the ceiling. I’m also considering putting the bottle piece into the gallery in a piled mass, with lighting concealed within the pile.

I was asked to produce a piece of work by the University theatre department, whose Little Theater is being demolished in a week to make room for a new cafeteria building. I decided to take pieces of the building and renew them, as if they have been resurrected and transformed, so I marked a series of ten pieces for the demo crew to cut out of the doomed structure. James had some fun cutting through windows, doors and electrical conduit at my request.













In the pictures you see James cutting out a section of siding, then a shot showing how I marked the pieces of the building that I wanted with white paint, then a row of the sections laying out ready for me to frame and gild them. In the end we’ll have ten black frames around golden pieces of the building. It would be great to have this piece finished in time for the CLU exhibit, because it will be in the gallery during the homecoming weekend, so our returning theatre graduates will be able to see it.