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Robert Dampier and the Alchemy of Assemblage

"There are two methods whereby growth may be accomplished. The first is by Nature, for Nature is an alchemist forever achieving the apparently impossible. The second is by art, and through art is produced in a comparatively short time that which requires Nature almost endless periods to duplicate." - Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages Along cobbled brick pavements near the conjunction of aging trolley tracks in the historic strand district of Galveston Island stands the old Hendley Building. It is a testament to the period of economic growth the island experienced in the late nineteenth century. This was the first large scale industrial building in what was at one time called the “Wall Street of the South”. Located in close proximity to the historical wharf area this building has been a staple and gathering point of business, arts, and community for over one hundred fifty years. It has seen two civil war battles, served as a refuge to residents escaping the devastation of the 1900 storm, and was at one time home to the first lodge of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the state. It's a building that the spirit of Galveston resonates throughout. Fittingly, it is now home to the Galveston Historic Foundation and also one of the most unique shops on the island, Hendley Market, a bazaar of the imagination, a place scattered about with oddities from artisans and relics plucked from times past but not forgotten. I only sketch the aura of this building because it was in the imaginative shop here, in one of the most unique places on this island that I would discover the highly imaginative and unique art of Mr. Robert Dampier. A master of the art of assemblage, a medium that consists of taking found or fabricated objects and reconstructing them into collages of sculpture. As an art form it is in some ways a rebuttal to our societal dispensation to discard any and everything. I remember walking into Hendley Market, a shop I had not visited for years and catching out of the corner of my eye one of the most stunning pieces of art I had ever seen. It was titled the Temple of All, a massive eight foot by three foot piece of assembled sculpture. I made my way to it immediately, somewhat oblivious to anything else in this shop, which is surprising as it is a peculiar and interesting emporium to say the least. Staring up at this piece affixed to the old brick walls I was quite simply astonished by this art. I was just as fascinated and intrigued by who had made this, who was the artist behind it? It was full of iconography found in ancient alchemical texts, mysterious occult symbolism, Victorian embellishments, and a symmetry that drew you toward its center. The most impressive part of the piece was a large eye enclosed appropriately in a triangle and positioned in the direct center staring down at you like god himself, everything else radiating outward from it. It was not just the aesthetics but the sublime beauty in how the detailed symbolism was conveyed which really peaked my interest. Very specific symbolic references that were far too arcane for anyone not well versed in the esoteric philosophies to be aware of, riddles of number and correlations that explain an allegory of the soul. For over a decade I had moved about in outsider circles of occultists and esoteric thinkers, not just as a passive observer but an active participant. The arcane symbols that I saw before me in this intriguing piece of art were the symbols I had long surrounded myself with, they were the deepest expressions of the human soul, things that can never be properly conveyed in word alone but require iconography to penetrate the deeper meaning of. My eyes ventured away from this piece to the others of Mr. Dampier's that lay spread out in his own nook of Hendley Market. Each piece just as brilliant, all assemblages of an archetypal beauty, I wanted to know more about this artist. Fortunately I must had been brought here by the fates, alongside his various assemblages was a promotional flyer for a gallery exhibition Mr. Dampier was involved with. There was no question I had to attend this. This was someone who I knew would be an individual that was very interesting. It was immediately after returning home I reached out to him on social media, to let him know of my incredible appreciation for his art and that I would be attending his exhibition and would like a chance to speak with him. The exhibition aptly named The Strand After Dark was being hosted on the second floor of the Hendley building, where I would discover his studio also resided. My intention upon entering the show was to immediately find Mr. Dampier and ask him a few questions about the symbolism within his work. However when I first walked into the exhibition I couldn't help but allow my feet to follow where my eyes led me. It was impressively laid out with his various assemblages, sculptures, and collages positioned around an uneasy looking glass floor in the center of the room, which also served as the ceiling to the first floor of Hendley Market below. One could even see the shoppers browsing about underneath. In the very center of this glass floor almost daring you to come greet it stood one of the most impressive assemblages of the exhibition. To get an up-close view of this piece one had to quite literally take a leap of faith onto the glass and walk out to the center peering twenty feet down to the concrete below! Titled as the Illusion of Living it was highly representative of several concepts prevalent in Mr Dampier's work, the merger of science and spirit, the physical with metaphysical, along with the "memento mori". Humorously this piece was displayed in a place that one could quite literally plummet to their death from. The concept of memento mori is often simplified as a reminder of one's mortality, though it is more symbolic of the epiphany which comes through deep introspection of what mortality means. I've found that those most attuned to this idea are the most productive and creative of people, the reflection on death can ironically lead you to the realization of your own true will and purpose in life. Robert Dampier's ever expanding corpus of work can only be a testament to him having discovered his true will. What is even more impressive than the quantity of his work is the overall quality, each piece as inspiring and intriguing as the last, if not more so. After making my way around the entirety of his exhibition taking in as much of the mind-scape of Mr. Dampier as I could I finally made my way into his studio where he was busy conversing with several visitors. It was immediately apparent this wasn't your typical artist studio. It was more akin to some renaissance era alchemical laboratory; pieces of metal, chemical beakers, fragments of wood scattered about, it may have looked chaotic to most but I could tell it was all very much in order for him. It was expressive of Ordo ab Chao, order out of chaos, which given the alchemical meaning of this statement was a very fitting atmosphere for his studio. When I saw Mr. Dampier he recognized me from social media, eager to speak with him I interjected myself into the conversation. He was standing directly underneath yet another highly impressive work of art he had created. An eight foot tall Qabalistic diagram, the Tree of Life, this like many of his pieces was crafted and framed with gorgeous Victorian embellishments and complemented with images from esoteric treatises and weathered pages forming a backing canvas. The piece was made even more bold and impressive by copper stripping and lighted tones giving it even greater dimensional detail, causing almost golden reflections to emanate from it in the near blinding bright studio lights. It was a truly visionary piece, like the physical representation of that mystical experience so eloquently described in the musings of William Blake. Greeting Mr. Dampier and striking up a conversation on his influences, art, and the abundant symbolism within his work it became immediately apparent a kindred spirit had been found. We conversed as two people who could have known each other for a lifetime, or maybe a lifetime in the past as it is my firm belief we re-encounter and are drawn back to people we have met from our previous incarnations. As Freud said, “We choose not randomly each other. We meet only those who already exists within our subconscious.” It is as if the particles that make up our very being are in someway entangled through all of time and space. These are the people that we most "click" with, in whom we find our most kindred of spirits. I can very easily imagine him as the alchemist and myself the esoteric student having met and shared many a long conversation in some remote period of antiquity. We connected like old friends would have, sharing our experiences of the mystical, our literary and artistic influences, talked about the sciences, the future, and coming paradigm shifts. Since then we meet quite regularly and have become very much like brothers. What has impressed me most though is his insight into the esoteric philosophies and the artistic aspects of it without having a formal education in either esoteric organizations or fine arts. He is that kind of rare adept of the mysteries that found truth and knowledge not in analytical discovery under a teacher or the dusty books of an old library but rather by peering into his own soul through introspection and reflection. He is an autodidact whose artistic medium was perfected not by apprenticeship but through his own rumination on the processes and by countless hours of experimentation. Robert conveyed to me that it is his intention to place as much of the esoteric out there as possible but without an objective interpretation on his part, and that really it is the observer's own interpretation not his that matters most. His art is his impulse but I believe as he suggests it is not made for him, it is made for the observer. He is simply pulling back the curtain to expose the mystery, parting the veil of Isis so much so that she may even blush, and allowing the audience to interpret the experience they may have of his art however they will. Mr. Dampier's art speaks to the soul, and an overt amount of explanation is therefore unnecessary, because your soul will in return speak its meaning to you. Within his art is the clavis mysterium, a key to the mysteries, it will unlock the door but it's up to you to discover what is found therein, to quiet your mind and listen to what your soul may wish to reveal. In Robert Dampier's world nothing is as it seems. Every thrown out fixture, discarded relic, part of industrial garbage, and dilapidated antique; they are all simply objects that are in a transitional phase. He sees beyond this reality very much as the Platonists did, within all that is physical there is a reflection of a more perfect metaphysical state of its being, it is simply in transition awaiting for this perfected state to emerge. The old adage of one man's junk is another man's treasure is reminiscent of Mr. Dampier's outlook, only more accurately in one man's junk is another man's treasure awaiting creation. He sees the potential beauty in everything, there are few people I have ever met that exhibit this quality of a true artist more. Mr. Dampier is very much as an alchemist of ages past, taking that which is lead and transmuting it to gold. In doing so his work is likewise reflective of that greater metaphysical pursuit of alchemy, the true purpose of the craft, to take the mundane and material and endow it with a meaning and spirit.

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