Alchemical

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From the new issue - Morgan Leigh Davies on Velvet Goldmine:

Velvet Goldmine is full of the ecstasy of music, jam-packed with actual songs from the seventies, as well as other songs meant to sound like they were. Sometimes, when someone, especially Curt Wild (Ewan MacGregor), is performing in the film, Haynes’ camera cuts to or pans over the audience. The crowd becomes one undulating, almost orgiastic body: a sea of hysterical faces, suspended in a kind of prolonged ecstasy. The performer has managed to capture that indefinable alchemical thing that gets into people’s bones and their blood, like liquor, like a drug, like sex. But it always must come to an end: the lights always come up, the audience is always pushed out into the night. The musicians are left alone backstage, the crowd is forced to return to the unsympathetic embrace of reality. The ecstasy we feel in those magical moments, listening to live music in the dark, is real—but it’s also fleeting. 

None of the characters in Velvet Goldmine ever figure out how to be outside of that ecstasy. All of them are left behind, except Slade himself, who just vanishes. They flew too close to the sun and got burned so badly that they never figured out another way to live.”

(Bright Wall/Dark Room, Issue #21: Musicals, Feb. 2015)

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These hand-colored woodcuts illustrations are from our 1550 first edition of De Alchimia Opuscula (A Short Work on Alchemy), which includes the Rosarium Philosophorum (Rosary of Philosophers). This text led readers on a spiritual journey to discover the fabled philosopher’s stone, an alchemical substance that could turn base metals into gold. Contemplating the strange and heavily symbolic illustrations was an important part of the journey. Read more about the Rosarium here.

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UNIVERSA MYSTERIUM by Santiago CARUSO / Ink and scratch over plastered cardboard, 26 cm x 35 cm

The universal vibration of the snake, as a path to go through the mystery of creation, from the unveiled to the obscure. The seven spirits of the universe, the seven planets of the antiquity, the seven keys of the scale that is the experience of the world.  Music is the question, and can be an answer.

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Just before the filming of X-Men 2, I was approached by Gordon Smith of FXSmith to come up with a tattoo design for the Nightcrawler.  Gordon’s dilemma was the challenge of making the tattoos show up on the Nightcrawler’s blue-black skin.  I suggested that an etched scarified effect, inspired by the traditional Maori moko would show up well and would give an added dimension if it were implied that the wounds were self-inflicted.  

My challenge was to create a tattoo design that reflected the psychospiritual dimension of the character who was Roman Catholic and spoke High German.  My wife Raven suggested angelic sigils (i.e. signatures) that would reflect the Nightcrawler’s faith, combined with alchemical symbols that emphasized his spiritual conflict because of his outward demonic appearance and sulphurous smell.  The apparently opposing forces of spirit and form would be balanced and integrated into one harmonious expression of wholeness in the tattoo.

Initially Bryan Singer and his committee wanted only half the Nightcrawler’s face tattooed.  After he saw my drawings, however, and heard our proposal, he decided on the whole face, and, later, the upper torso and arms.  The writers had to rewrite parts of the script to incorporate the Nightcrawler’s tattoos in a new backstory of the character.

Gordon’s special effects team made casts of Alan Cumming’s face, torso and arms and I mapped the designs on the casts.  I was later told that Alan found the whole plaster cast experience claustrophobic and anxiety-inducing; the FX team had to prematurely pull it off his face. Fortunately, the plaster cast stayed in one piece.

Prior to X-Men 2, the tattoos I was asked to do for films tended to be the stereotypical gang members and criminals.  I am grateful that in X-Men 2, I was finally given the opportunity to express in a film the essence of tattoo as a spiritual healing art that realigns body and soul.

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas.”

-Alan Watts