Magnum Opus: The Alchemical Process in Art
The Great Work (Latin: Magnum Opus) is an alchemical term for the process of creating the Philosopher’s Stone. Alternately described as a literal and metaphorical substance, the Stone was a catalyst that, when applied, would bring about a transmutation of the subject’s essence, transforming that which it affected into a more perfect and refined state. Thus base metals were transformed into gold, the inanimate was made animate, and flesh, being subject to degradation and decay, was fortified so as to prolong life indefinitely. The synthesis of the Stone was not just one of physical experimentation and examination, but a spiritual process of cleansing and refining the soul of the alchemist as well. Beyond the alembics and vials, the alchemist sought to evoke the spiritual realm through meditation, self-reflection, and ritual.
Using this as a departure point, Magnum Opus looks to examine the processes and products of its seven artists through an alchemical lens. The Philosopher’s Stone in this context could be understood as the intention of the artist, for it is from this that base materials and actions are transmuted into the refined form of an artwork. Utilizing a variety of media and techniques, these works echo the intention of the alchemists as the spirit is made visible, the inanimate animated, and different planes of consciousness are realized as the viewer is immersed in color, form, and tone.
– J. Gordon, Curatorial Associate
Delaware Center for Contemporary Art