Posted by Amaranth
Alchemy was established in England over 30 years ago (in 1977) and is one of the most well recognised brands in gothic and alternative jewellery. However a lesser known part of the company and a foundation to all they create, is the Alchemy artworks. Their imagination runs riot in 2d, breathing new life into old fables or even giving birth to their own! This artwork is then reimagined into jewellery or decor, or used in their calendars, playing cards and other printed paraphernalia. In 2002 they decided to create Alchemy Licencing to manage the increasingly high demand for the Alchemy brand and artwork and also to assist licensee’s with their product designs. The seeds of this idea however was already sewn back in the early 80′s with a t-shirt license issued to a London company owned by one of the UK’s leading pop groups. Today they have over 40 companies using their artwork for everything from drumskins to lighters to figurines and giftwrap and pretty much everything else between!
I caught up with Stuart, Alchemy’s principle artist, to get a glimpse into the artists behind the artwork.
How long have you been working at Alchemy and how did the job come about?
I’ve worked with Alchemy since Easter 1989, so that’s just over 25 years. I expected it would be like most jobs in the art industry at the time, and would hopefully keep me employed for a year or two. But I didn’t reckon with the all-consuming, world conquering momentum which was only just becoming apparent as Alchemy emerged from a decade of subterraneous cult status. Up until that point I’d been hawking my portfolio around all the usual London publishers and taking freelance work where I could get it. I was doing anything from children’s book illustration, wildlife art and technical drawings in encyclopedias. Previous to this I studied wildlife illustration at an art college in Carmarthen,West Wales. In my opinion, the mixture of observation, natural history and taxidermy which I absorbed there, has served me really well with the dark imaginings that are required of me in my work at Alchemy.
What drew you to this darker/mystical side of art?
The interest in the esoteric and the unknown began quite early for me, I have a memory of being nine or ten, and spending all of my pocket money on American horror comics and copying the lurid pictures of vampires, were-wolfs and mummies, until my father found out and steered me towards ‘much healthier’ war comics. But by the time I was in my early teens I was absorbing as much fantastical horror fiction and art as I could. Particular favourites of mine included the paperback Pan Horror anthologies, the classic novels of Stoker, Conan Doyle and Wheatley with large doses of M R James. Surfeit to say, I love a good ghost story. Anything swathed in ancient barbaric folklore or the occult immediately sparks my imagination. My creative development also owes a great deal to my teenage artistic heroes. Before I even thought of myself as an artist I was a huge art fan. I couldn’t get enough of the large stable of classic fantasy book cover artists. Frank Frazetta, Chris Achilleos, Patrick Woodroffe, John Howe, Berni Wrightson, Alan Lee and Brian Froud are to name but a few. So as soon as I put brush to paper, the darkness bleeds out, it’s in my DNA.
Where do you draw your inspirations from? What are your favourite themes to portray?
After a quarter of a century creating Alchemy in all of its labyrinthine forms, my inspiration has by necessity had to become far reaching. Initially, mediaeval european culture proved a great source of artistic stimulation in all it’s permutations, be it viking carving, gothic tomb architecture or monastic grimoires. But later, my interest in the full body of art history proved a great source of creativity.You only have to look at our product range to see what excites us, we wear our influences honestly on our sleeves. Art Nouveau, the tragic romance of the Pre Raphaelites, the hellish visions of Hieronymus Bosch, DaVinci’s cryptic symbolism, it’s an easy jump to see how Alchemy is fuelled by the genius of our artistic ancestors. In terms of favourite themes, something that resurfaces repeatedly in my work is ‘Memento Mori’ – an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of our mortality, often portrayed through the visual symbolism of ‘Death and the Maiden’. A somewhat morbid concept, yet one that reminds us all to live fully in the moment, and that shallow beauty must inevitably embrace decay. I think this is evident in pieces such as ‘ Mort Hari’ or ‘Rose Des Folies’.
What makes an artwork “essentially alchemy” in your opinion?
The vital element is intensity and a sense of the ‘other’. By that I mean that indefinable quality of arcane mystery which gives you slight sense of unease or more likely leaves you wanting to know more, which is never a bad thing.
Could you tell me how the Alchemy art department is made up? Is there a separation between the artist that design the jewellery/décor and those that create the drawings?
Alchemy has a very small but dedicated team of artists and model makers who all contribute concepts to whatever is the currant project. We all have our own specialities, so the ideas tend to flow from the artists who envisage the essence of a piece of jewellery with an initial sketch, to the sculptors who can realise it. I specialise in ‘old school’ paintings but keep an I- Mac close at hand to keep up to date with digital techniques, whilst others produce their masterpieces almost entirely on screen.The one thing that unites all of the Alchemy creative team is a fundamental ability to draw, a discipline that allows the full potential of a great idea to flower from a tiny seed.
I know in some cases (like with your Absinthe Fairy necklace) the jewellery piece was actually inspired by an artwork, does this happen often and does it happen the other way round too?
The simple answer to that question is yes. But to qualify that, I would say that a really good Alchemy idea can work in many forms. This is because a good basic shape or silhouette is essential to anything we do, be it a necklace, earring, t-shirt design or giftware item. When I’m initially designing anything, I always start with a very small scribbled sketch. If it works well at that very basic level and impresses other people, I know I’m on to something.
Could you explain to me a bit about the licensing side of the business? What’s the most interesting or unusual way in which Alchemy artwork has been used?
Over the decades we have built up a vast library of artwork and jewellery items which by pure necessity we are no longer able to hold as available stock items, so that’s where our licensing partners come in. In terms of the most unusual, a product that jumps to mind is the Augmented Reality Absinthe Fairy. This is a pendant which centers on the painting of the Fairy in the form of a cameo. You photograph the pendant with your phone, and an animation is triggered with the aid of an App. The fairy appears to come to life and fly out of the cameo.
What has been your favourite project that you have worked on at Alchemy so far?
There are so many things that I’m really proud of, for example coming up with the ‘Whitby Wyrm’ dragon art, which has entered folklore with many people believing the legend we created to actually be hundreds of years old. There was even a shop named after it in Whitby for some years. Another would be the honour of seeing my artwork immortalised as tattoos all over the world, you never quite get over that. And finally, a very personal favourite was conceiving the steampunk ‘Time Machine Chronambulator Dial’ clock which was probably the most expensive piece of Alchemy assembled to date. I absolutely love that quasi-Victorian swash buckling, daring-do world of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. So whenever I get the chance I relish the opportunity to come up with steampunk creations for the ‘Alchemy Empire’.
Published in Devolution