Chantal Powell’s Mysterious Sculptures Celebrate the Personal Art of Transformation
“There are so many things about alchemy that appeal to me as an artist,” Chantal told Creative Boom. “It’s full of poetry and paradoxes, seductive imagery and symbolism alongside code words they called ‘the language of birds’. But the deepest fascination for me is that it’s about ‘a living, breathing subject with as much potential for us in the modern world as it was 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 Renaissance Europe to China and India. It is global and resurfaces constantly,” she said. “Alchemy is all about the art of transformation.”
Chantal’s particular area of interest is psychological alchemy or “inner alchemy”, which was popularized by CGJung. It means using alchemy as a tool to help us understand our innermost selves, “bringing the unconscious into awareness for the purpose of psychological and spiritual transformation,” she explains. “In a virtual age where we are propelled into digital immateriality, I believe a relationship with alchemy offers a way for us to engage with inner symbols and reconnect with the guiding principles of nature.”
During her process, Chantal admits that the most enjoyable access is “the interconnectedness of physical processes in the studio”, alongside finding and building her personal relationship with certain symbols. “Everything I appreciate on their own terms, but they feed off each other, and the key moments are when I have a direct emotional experience of them,” she says. An example of this is his sculpture of an asphalt 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 while being aware that , historically, bitumen boats were placed in burial trees, that boats in mythology speak of difficult journeys, and also of the powers of transformation that symbolic alchemical vessels hold.”
Chantal has just returned from a residency in the Netherlands, which she considers essential to develop her artistic practice. “Working outside of your usual studio environment also naturally puts your mind in 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 wild nature of the sea and the ruggedness of the cliffs have been replaced by flat sight lines and the calm repeated rhythms of the canals.
“Temporarily living in a change of scenery like this and experiencing both the change in surrounding visual symbols and a different energetic landscape is a real source of nourishment for my practice and my symbolic language. I hope to take a journey of different residence every year for continued expansion in this way.”‘