“My paintings are about the human experience in life- the depth of our suffering, the pain and disappointment that we all struggle with, the beauty of this world, and the joy when we actually manage to rise above our struggles.” Nasreen Adaya Haroon
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

We associate the concept and practice of alchemy — the transformation of one element to another, usually “higher” element — with (pseudo-)scientists of a time gone by. But the transformation of elements, base or not, into worthy forms is precisely the task of the artist. The elements stay the same, of course; most artists do not engage chemistry (orthodox or fantastical) in their formulations. But those formulations change lead and stone, oil and ink into things that could only have come about magically, outside the realm of nature because they are inside the realm of culture. It is a change not of element into element, but of elements into apparitions, into things greater than the sum of their materials.

This is why Nasreen Haroon has called her latest series of abstractions “Alchemy.” For Haroon, the confabulation of a composition out of various stuff is a remarkable thing, a process so deep that it guides the artist rather than be guided. Of course, Haroon is sole author of these intense, alluring canvases; but the nature of the substances engaged dictates not only the movement of her hand but the discretion of her eye and the reflections of her brain. In its gross physicality, fine art is a direct collaboration between artist and nature, and the “Alchemy” paintings attest to, even demonstrate, this.

Ironically, with regard to Haroon, the goal element of traditional alchemy, gold, dominates the works that have led up to the “Alchemy” paintings, but recedes in prominence among the works in the series itself. Gold appears and reappears in the newest work, to be sure, but rarely does Haroon use it as more than a spice. Its restrained presence in the “Alchemy” works honors its power and gravity in the breach; more than a flecking of the precious element, its luster shimmering with the weight of both geology and history, consumes the painting. Indeed, several of Haroon’s pre-“Alchemy” canvases seem on fire with streaks of gold leaf. That exercise in a painterly Midas touch has given way to the more circumspect engagement of gold characteristic of the “Alchemy” works.

In fact, in some of the “Alchemy” paintings, the gold is hard to spot. And in others, there’s none to spot at all. It is as if the paintings are stakes in a gold rush, some yielding rich lodes, others nothing. But Haroon has made every claim worthy, conjuring a fulfilled painting no matter its material content. Again, the real “alchemy” is not in the production of gold, but in the production of artworks — artworks that in their capture of both natural process (scumbling, dripping, streaking, pooling) and human sensibility reconfigure common and exotic materials into planes of experience, places for the eye to alight and delight and for the spirit to nestle and soar, conformations as natural as earth itself — because Haroon and her species are themselves — ourselves — natural.

American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, an ancestor to Haroon’s style and working method, was once asked if he worked from nature. “I am nature,” he replied, indicating that his art and his humanity were themselves natural occurrences, parts of the living world. The would-be science of alchemy is not natural in and of itself, but it does address itself to the natural way of things, determining a kind of aspirational poetry: wouldn’t it be nice if it were actually possible to make gold out of lead. Equally natural, Pollock insisted and Haroon avers, is making art out of gold and lead both, and many other substances besides — natural not only because these substances are of the earth, but because their reconfiguration into artworks is a human endeavor, which is as natural as the behaviors of animals, plants, and minerals. Nasreen Haroon does not need to practice actual alchemy to realize transformative results. She needs only select her paints — gold among them — and set to work.  - Peter Frank