Acrylic on canvas
2438 x 2108mm
Throughout his painting life, Mrkusich explored the abstract properties of colour and shape. The Corner paintings did this in purely formalist terms; the five Alchemical Spectrum works refer outside themselves to a tightly specific system of ideas. This work, one of a series of five, draws on the Jungian relationship between alchemy (the transmutation of base metal into gold) and the process of psychological integration or wholeness. Mrkusich’s interest here lies in the artistic use of a descriptive system that connects colours with alchemical significances, hence the title Alchemical Spectrum.
He has has taken information from the 16th-century alchemical manuscript Rosarium philosophorum (‘Rosary of the Philosophers’), which describes alchemical processes in terms of the language of colours and emblematic figures. Green is the base matter that the alchemist transmutes in the alchemical furnace; black symbolises the death of one chemical form and the gestation of another; white, the separation of spiritual properties from the physical; red, the reuniting of spirit and body; gold, the brilliance of psychological integration.
Mrkusich’s alchemical paintings are constructions that explore links between these colours, each work placing colours and shapes in different relationships so as to create degrees of tension or harmony. For medieval alchemists, the perfecting of matter was analogous to the perfecting of man according to the laws of God. With the rise of natural science in the 17th century such ideas became untenable and alchemy divided into two branches, one becoming the science of chemistry, the other a religious philosophy.
Jung’s interest lay in the tendency of alchemists to describe what they were doing with metals in terms of their own psychological processes. He saw alchemy as a process of inner psychological development within the alchemist himself, and the chemical changes and new combination of metals as changes within the personality. For him, the alchemist was simply projecting his own psychological changes in a search for integration and individuation, the very same quest as Jung embarked upon with his patients.
Mrkusich’s interest in Jung goes back to the mid 1960s when the great psychologist’s book Man and His Symbols first appeared. Here was a psychologist with an intensely visual imagination who saw the connection between his own patients’ drawings and the religious visual symbolism of many cultures. Mrkusich’s Emblem and Element series are no less Jungian than the Alchemical Spectrum works. These are paintings deeply concerned with states of mind or with the movement of ideas that the artist perceives both sensuously and rationally.
Alchemical Spectrum, Sue Crockford Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau, 30 April to 17 May 1991
Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased August 1994