It's the practice of alchemy that inspires much of the work of artist Chantal Powell. Her research of alchemists' notebooks from the 15th and 16th centuries translates into beautifully crafted sculptures that go a long way in understanding the ancient branch of natural philosophy.
"There is so much in alchemy that draws me to it as an artist," Chantal tells Creative Boom. "It's full of poetry and paradoxes, seductive imagery and symbolism alongside coded wording they referred to as 'the language of the birds'. But the deeper fascination for me is that this is a living, breathing subject with as much potential for us in the modern world as it had when the sacred texts were studied in the city of Alexandria thousands of years ago.
"From its roots in ancient Egypt, this knowledge has migrated across countries and cultures, from Greece, Persia and Rennaisance Europe to China and India. It is global and continually resurfacing," she says. "Alchemy is all about the art of transformation."
Chantal's particular area of interest is psychological alchemy or 'inner alchemy', which was popularised by C.G.Jung. This means using alchemy as a tool to help us understand our innermost self, "making the unconscious conscious with the aim of psychological and spiritual transformation," she explains. "In a virtual age where we are propelled towards digital immateriality, I feel a relationship with alchemy offers us a way to engage with inner symbols and reconnect us to the guiding principles of nature."
During her process, Chantal admits the most enjoyable access is the "interconnectedness of the physical processes in the studio", alongside the research and her personal relationship building with certain symbols. "All I appreciate on their own terms, but they feed into one another, and the key moments are when I have a direct emotional experience of this," she says. An example of this is her sculpting a bitumen boat in the studio: "I felt deeply connected and moved by the process because I was creating a physical representation of a psychological vessel to contain grief whilst simultaneously being aware that historically bitumen boats were placed down burial shafts, that boats in mythology speak to difficult journeys, and also of the transformative powers that symbolic alchemical vessels hold."
Chantal has just returned from a residency in the Netherlands, something which she believes is essential in developing one's artistic practice. "To be working outside of your usual studio environment also naturally puts your mind into a more flexible state for experimentation and alternative thinking, which is invaluable," she adds. "My home studio is in rural West Dorset by the sea, and although the residency was in another rural setting in the Netherlands, the energy couldn't have been more different. The wildness of the sea and ruggedness of the cliffs were replaced by flat sight lines and calm repeating rhythms of canals.
"Temporarily living in a shift of scenery like this and experiencing both the change of surrounding visual symbols and a different energetic landscape is a real feeding for my practice and symbolic language. I hope to make a different residency trip annually to ongoing expansion in this way."'