Alchemy and the Arts

In the Fine Arts there is something extraordinary that can happen, if you’re paying attention.  If you’re open.  If you’re allowing yourself to be sensitive to it.  In this instance, it’s the “Alchemy” of Oil Paint, but it happens elsewhere.

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet there are many examples, but this is as good as any:

“For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

15 words.  The last words of the play.  Take each one out of context and there’s not much there, but, when combined, they are truly powerful.  When you say them aloud they seem to transcend language and enter another realm.  Artists are often asked, “how do you define beautiful?”, this phrase from Romeo and Juliet would be one of my answers.

In the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, there is a funeral theme, a march.  It’s small and simple but so very beautiful.  A rhythmic structure that seems almost humorous.  The power behind this simplicity seems otherworldly.  Again, it transcends music and becomes something else.

At the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., there is a stunning self-portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 – 1669).  Allow yourself to ponder this oil paint.  We see paint, but is it a brushstroke?  We see color but it’s not just color.  Remove one piece of paint and it will make no sense on its own, and the painting will suffer for it.  The paint seems to meld into something more, it changes before our eyes.  It moves and breathes.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait, 1659, Oil on canvas, (Full and Detail)

At the 2016 Prix de West in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, David A. Leffel won the Purchase Award for his painting, Jonathan Warm Day Coming.  I was fortunate enough to see this painting before the crowds gathered.  I spent as much time as I could with it and I was reminded of my experience with the Rembrandt painting in Washington, D.C.  Words cannot describe the beauty of this painting.  The oil paint has transformed, it has become something more.

David A. Leffel, Jonathan Warm Day Coming, 2016, Oil on canvas, (Full and Detail)

I briefly spoke with David Leffel and I told him that I would like to petition the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and let them know a new element has entered the Universe.  His oil paint.  And I would like them to add this element to the Periodic Table of Elements.  Leffelium?  Leffelonium?

What was David Leffel’s response to my observation on his paint?

“Alchemy.”

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