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king and queen


Making art is a dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious mind whereby ideas well up onto the canvas to be interpreted & developed. The process is a bit spooky, and sometimes elements emerge in such a way that it seems that the unconscious must have been aware of relationships between them long before the conscious mind understood. Elements are included in the work for one reason, and having been incorporated, immediately connect with other elements in unexpected and numinous ways.


Left: The Wheel of Life Thangka

Alchemical symbolism, with its archetypal figures and allegories, finds expression in the world's mythological stories and folk tales, which have in turn inspired much of modern art and literature. While the symbols of alchemy have always been arcane, the stories that reflect these emblems and patterns are popular and enduring. People have an innate sense of alchemical oppositeness due to the human tendency for categorizing the world according to extremes (like light and dark, or hot and cold) and through common cultural references that have alchemical origins (like lion and lamb, or sun and moon).


Mars and Venus

Botticelli's Venus and Mars c. 1483

materia prima

Materia Prima Lapidis Philosophorum,
Anton Kirchweger 1781

In the first half of the twentieth century, Carl Jung realized that the system of alchemical symbols and the relationships between them correspond to the content of people's dreams. Irrespective of cultural background, there are certain themes, devices and characters that are universaly experienced in dreams.

Through his analysis of the latent content of dreams, Jung defined a series of alchemical figures, or archetypes, the essence of which can be found in characters throughout the history of story-telling. The basic archetypes are
the self, the shadow, the anima and the animus
. Constellated around this core is a group of more complex archetypes such as the hero(ine), the alter ego, the villain, the witch, the wise old man or woman, the helper animal, the temptress, the innocent, the fool, and the mother and father figures.

The same cast of charcters which stars in our dreams and in the best stories emerges naturally on the canvas when the unconscious mind is given free reign over the creative process.

The foundation of the system of symbols that flows from the human unconscious mind has always been the concept of oppositeness. Our observations about the outside world are full of them - black and white, large and small, good and bad, etc. As children, our first attempts to categorize and make sense of the reality around us involve dividing the world into these opposite qualities. This fundamental relationship of opposition is reflected in the nature and structure of our minds.



Ancient people around the world understood the manifestation of consciousness as an interplay of four elements. Imagine two pairs of opposites or gradients arranged perpendicular to one another; Fire and Water on one axis, Air and Earth on the other. This conceptualization doesn't describe one particular thing, but instead provides an empty structure, or universal key, for understanding all kinds of relationships.

This may seem like an obscure detail, but this exact structure emerges over and over again in the modern world. The heat-pressure gradient, electromagnetism and the Cartesian coordinate system, to name a few, are all expressions of this concept.

Left: Mandala by Carl Jung



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© James Norton 2012