FIVE WOUNDS: Alchemical Illustrations

This illustration accompanies a passage in 'Five Wounds' in which Magpie (Thief and spy) is preparing to take a daguerreotype of two corpses in the laboratory of Crow, the alchemist. Whilst considering how his subjects would wish to be photographed, Magpie contemplates the nature and essence of life and death.

Coal/Diamonds, Black/White, Presence/Absence, Life/Death. This illustration was inspired by images of alchemy. Both Coal and diamonds are primarily carbon, the same material in two different 'states', so appear to be equally balanced, of equal value. The scales suggest the idea of judgment; a concept very much linked to life and death at a time when alchemy was used by scholars to understand nature. The same material in two different states is also a reference to transmutation and transcendence associated with alchemy.

The laboratory of Crow, the Alchemist:

This illustration is explained in my post 'Jean in the Jar'. Alchemical Illustrations.

This illustration was created by Thomas Vaugham in the 1600's. Which possibly advises against possessiveness in order to live a dynamic life. I can't say for sure however. This drawing may even use the possibilities of steam power & the wheel to symbolise mobility. It may just depict a 'cycle' of life and death; in which the same material passes repeatedly through various stages.

"The King swimming in the Sea cryes out with a Loud Voice: He that delivers me shall have a great reward." From Michael Maier's 'Atalanta Fugiens'- 1618. Maier also composed a 'soundtrack' to go with the book. Alchemical illustrations such as these, together with a passage of text (and music in Maier's case), invited the reader to make interpretations and associations. The way of reading emblem books like Atalanta Fugiens is relevant to what Jon and I attempted with Five Wounds; as Jon says about our collaboration: "...the combination of words and images itself forms part of the argument, and that the latter can and should invite or require decipherment. They can therefore sustain alternate readings. Moreover, their relationship to the text does not need to be either fixed or obvious".

At a time before sophisticated scientific tools, alchemists attempted to depict, via metaphors, universal rules that could be applied to our understanding of nature. The illustrations were an early version of what we would refer to as a scientific 'models' today.The raw material that made up DNA was known, but before James D. Watson and Francis Crick created a model of how the chemistry was organised, DNA was poorly understood.

Alchemy unified various fields of science; chemical experimentation would also include variables such as astrology, mythology, spirituality and ritual. To the alchemist, what was practiced in the laboratory would correspond to movements of the cosmos and even other dimensions.


A scene from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' depicting non-scientific reasoning.

Another illustration from Atalanta Fugiens; a lion with wings being attacked by a, possibly jealous, wingless lion: *See the comments at the end of this article for further interpretations of this image. Many meanings of the motifs and 'models' are today lost or defunct as science moves on and theories are improved. In modern science this is also the case; I write this at a time when neutrinos have been recorded traveling faster than the speed of light, casting doubt on our current 'models' on  which physics are based.


I attended a seminar last year in which the speaker (an academic who's special interest was in comics and films) attempted to explain how Fellini's 'Eight and a Half' related scene by scene to Atalanta Fugiens. I was not completely convinced, but it was a very interesting talk.

This illustration was partly inspired by the above scene in Fellini's movie.


An alchemical illustration that did not make the final edit of Five Wounds.



A drawing depicting a barreleye fish and other deep sea life.

A varnished crustacean I bought from a retired fisherman neighbour.

A tee shirt design for Friday's Project. I included an extract from Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' on the back of the garment:

A Limited edition print to accompany the window display of the flag-ship store, which featured a 'live' mermaid put on for Bread & Butter trade show (when it was held in Barcelona). In the final design, however, the pin up was replaced with an anchor.

A Tee design for a private party.

The defrosting cuttlefish which inspired the comic strip 'Tamara La Flipá'.

Felt-tip Mandalas

Felt-tip Mantra by dan hallett illustrator



Five Wounds: Hour of the Wolf

Magpie, prowling the streets at the 'hour of the wolf'. In this scene can be found: Various drunks- Magpie, a member of the 'Guild of Thieves', chooses to conduct his negotiations when his victims are at their most vulnerable, staggering home from the tavern. Fornicating cats. A noble with two prostitutes. A corrupt security guard selling goods from a warehouse. An angry old lady shouting from her balcony.


Most of the reference material for this illustration were my photos taken on the streets of Venice, during the night, following the 'pub crawl route' from Jonathan Walker's history book 'Pistols! Treason! Murder! The Rise and Fall of a Master Spy'.

One of the Dialog Chapters from 'Pistols!', in which Jon and two other historians, represented in the illustrations as stereotype academics, conduct a discussion on Venice in the 1600's during a bar crawl through modern Venice. These discussions actually took place.

Following this map I created for 'Pistols!' I soon got lost. I did find a pretty good bar though that seemed to be a local hangout for art student-types. It sold Bourbon on ice for 2€, in contrast to the generally high priced bars of Venice and had a background of reggae music. The bar was named after the two dragons fixed to the wall opposite- depicted in a photo above. Via my Castilian & Catalan and their Italian & Venetian I managed to communicate with my fellow drinkers who complained about the lack of night clubs and night life in modern Venice. They had a point, Venice is not the most debauched of cities so I had use imagination when creating the hour of the wolf illustration.

'Gin Lane' by William Hogarth. Created in 1751 in opposition to the 'Gin Craze'. In response to the gin craze, the government put tighter restrictions on sales and higher taxes on gin distilleries. Tea was encouraged as a more industrious stimulant than gin. The working class rioted in response.


First concept sketch. I omitted the fish & chips in the final illustration, but kept the urinating drunk.

Above: The first version, not used in the book.

"The Hour of the Wolf" refers to the time before dusk when, it was believed, dark supernatural forces were at their strongest and wolves would prowl outside peoples' houses; probably looking for scraps to eat, like cats and city foxes scavenging from bins today. On the right is a drawing of the 'Black Dog' from Five Wounds, which accompanies Magpie's nocturnal scene on the facing page of the book. On the left is a photo I took in the Louvre of an Egyptian statue of a jackal (I presume- or dog; I didn't make a note of the label). The jackal was often depicted as black in Egyptian art. A real jackal is, however, not black. The colour black was used as it symbolised both death and regeneration to the ancient Egyptians. Black is the colour of the fertile sediment that is brought by the flooding of the Nile, on which the Egyptian society depended. Black is also the colour that corpses turned during mummification. Jackals would prowl burial sites at night, probably looking for scraps to eat. The ancient Egyptian god associated with death and the afterlife has the head of a jackal. There is more on this in my post about the figure of the 'Black Dog'.