The Alchemist

Amanda Charchian’s Transformative Artwork

“They have such an intense vibe,” artist Amanda Charchian says from her sunny Los Angeles apartment. “They don’t play well with others.” We’re talking about her sculptures: mysterious words, figures, and symbols crafted out of glittering Swarovski crystals, spinning in the air and refracting light in a thousand different directions. It’s an effect she replicates in her own words. A conversation about her artwork quickly turns into a discussion of spirituality, inspiration, and the occult.

How did you first start working with crystals?

I went and saw a Louise Bourgeois retrospective at the MOCA, in downtown L.A. And I saw one piece called “The Arch of Hysteria.” It was a figure suspended in the air: he’s in flight, and he’s either levitating or falling. It was about this French scientist in the late nineteenth century, Jean Martin Charcot. He was sort of the leading thinker on women’s problems. They all fell under the concept of hysteria, which didn’t apply to men. Her piece was a comment on that. It stuck in my mind for a long time, maybe a year or a year and a half. One day I woke up from a dream that I had made this figure that was sort of suspended. It was female. And it was just made out of crystals! I was in college at the time and I was a painter. I was like, “I’m not a sculptor, I can’t do that!” But it turned out really good when I finished. I’ve been making them every couple months since.

What attracts you about the material?

I was attracted to Swarovskis just because, they’re crystals! If you look into one without any sunlight coming through it, you still see a spectrum of color in the crystal. Then if you put it in direct sunlight, it projects that whole spectrum out. So it has a night life and a day life. I like how unpredictable it is, and how much it has its own character. It feels like it’s between worlds.

There’s always a spiritual dimension to crystals. Is that something you’re also interested in?

I mean, these are not mineral crystals from the earth, they’re manmade crystals made from glass. So I think the spiritual appreciation comes more from the fact that these sculptures have a life, they’re working objects. But I’ve had them do really strange things. I remember I met this one person on the street one time, and she ended up buying one. And she said her whole life changed after buying it!

It had a symbol that was a hermetic seal of light, which is a circle, square, and triangle. It’s associated with Hermes Tresmegistus, who is a synthesis of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth: the gods of wisdom, writing, and magic in their respective cultures, which combined were alchemy. This symbol represents a perfect union between mind, matter, and spirit. The intersection of these aspects is an area of investigation for me: how elements of ourselves, especially as creators, move between them. L.A. has this really intense vault of energy. There’s an occult history here that’s still alive. I’m super supportive of that. I’m not sure I would have gotten into stuff like alchemy or magic if I didn’t live here.

Do you see these as themes, or do you see art as a way of tapping into other states of consciousness or spiritual planes?

It’s all related to me. A lot of artists are more tapped into their subconscious, and whatever means you take to getting there is rooted in some occult practice. I do Transcendental Meditation; I got a scholarship to do it with David Lynch. He’s been doing it twice a day for the last 40 years. And he’s pretty far out! [Laughs] He wrote this incredible book called Catching the Big Fish. And he uses the fish like a metaphor for your ideas. The deeper your conscious mind swims into your subconscious mind, the bigger the fish are going to be. If you’re trying to fish in a shallow pond, you’re not going to have a ton of options. So if you open up the space of your closed-off memories, you can access that.

L.A. has this really intense

vault of energy

I’m also reading a book called The Secret History of the World. It retells history through different secret societies, with the viewpoint of mind before matter instead of matter before mind. That’s one of the main secrets of the occult sciences: that the things that happen in the mind are what creates the outside world. Mysticism is interested in knowing your own strength. Because I don’t really think we live in a world of coincidence.

No?

I think you either believe in coincidence or you believe in synchronicity, meaning your intentions or the effects of will have power. Art is a really important way of tapping into that, because it has so much to do with your intention. It comes straight from your mind, it doesn’t have any role, and it doesn’t have an order other than the order of the way the universe works on it.

The word “Yes” appears in so much of your work, and is kind of a mantra to you. Do you see it as a way of changing the world through intentions?

It’s definitely a word that I was using a lot, because it’s so much about recognizing your own strength and your own power that you have over the next moment. Being willing to take responsibility for what happens: the idea that you can create a reality by just accepting. Your brain, if it hears the word “no,” it has a stress response. But when it hears the word “yes,” nothing specific happens. It just stays open.

You also photograph a lot of women. Do you think women have a positive energy or attitude that you can make a stronger connection with?

I do think that especially together, when you take out the jealousy and you take out the competition, it’s a big part of women. Just a whole awesome team of women around. It’s inspiring, you know? There’s a lot of mystery to be uncovered.

I make a point of trying to have an experience instead of trying to illustrate a concept. It feels more real to me. It’s almost like when you’re doing a magic spell: you have all of the elements you’re using and then you put it all together and see what happens. That’s kind of like what a photoshoot is. You’ve got a stylist, you’ve got a makeup artist, and you’ve got the location and the clothes. All of the elements are random and you don’t know what they’re going to do, exactly. It’s an alchemy: throwing things in the pot and seeing how it goes.


Amanda wears black silk blouse and pleat front skirt by Saint Laurent.