Mysterious Reds

Spike Bucklow

The synthesis of vermilion from cinnabar gave artists, apothecaries and alchemists the opportunity to engage profoundly with the basic structure of the material world. The process involved taking a solid and simultaneously creating from it a liquid and a vapour, then taking the liquid and mixing it with a solid to make another solid… This was a colour-coded journey through different states of being upon which the intrepid experimenter could meditate. The key stages in that journey were white, black and red, which artists recognized as being the same sequence of colours that charted the alchemical quest.

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Originally published by Reaktion Books, 2016, as a chapter of Red: The Art and Science of a Colour. Republished here with thanks.

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