Christopher Volpe: Alchemy and After

November 3-28, 2021
Opening Reception: Friday, November 5, 2021, 5:00-8:00 pm
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  • Christopher Volpe

    The Mystic Alone Sees the Sun Aglow at Midnight, tar and gold leaf on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, 2020.

    The Mystic Alone Sees the Sun Aglow at Midnight

Press Release

Artist Statement

Paintings in Tar and Gold Leaf

Painting's secret ambition is to conjure the immaterial from the material, to render non-visible worlds visible. In this, artists are like alchemists, transforming materials to conjure loftier realities and to reveal new worlds-within-worlds.

But today's "alchemy" is mostly about technology. Science is no longer linked to magic or the spiritual significance that alchemists once found in nature and the elements. The natural world has long lost its enchantment and its meaning, and modern humanity, along with the chemistry of the planet itself, is beginning to register the damage of a purely materialistic worldview addicted to profit – fatally Western and supported by the global commodification of nature and people and vastly over-benefitting a privileged few at the very top of the chain.

These paintings form part of a series titled "Alchemy and After." They're created using liquefied coal tar (a by-product of petroleum refinement) combined with shredded gold leaf. I think of the tar as the ultimate base matter – dark, toxic, pulling toward dissolution and decay – as well as a signifier for industrialization and the fossil fuels that drive it. In the gold I see the opposite – a precious, relatively "pure" metal invested with spiritual overtones – and a fitting symbol of the commercialization of nature. The titles are borrowed from historical alchemical and esoteric texts.

I hope this work evokes struggle between forces of darkness and light. My goal is to wrest from our failure to transcend our human flaws a kind of equilibrated beauty, however raw, one that both attracts and repels like the materials themselves.

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