Finding the Feminine Daemonic in Jen Ray's Art
Last week, female-fantasy artist Jen Ray invited me to her Berlin exhibition, <i>Better to Reign in Hell than Serve in Heaven</i>. What I like about Jen 's work is her portrayals of femme fatales who are not subjugated women. These are representations...
Photo of Zeena Schreck and Jen Ray by Markus Fiedler
Last week, female-fantasy artist Jen Ray invited me to her Berlin exhibition, Better to Reign in Hell than Serve in Heaven, at Haus am Lützowplatz, which is located in what used to be West Berlin before the wall fell. I first met Jen last year when she asked me to VJ a stream of music videos for Network Awesome, an online video-broadcast outlet that was founded by her DJ husband, Jason Forrest. One thing led to another and they asked me back for a follow-up interview. As a result, in addition to being a great artist, Jen has the dubious distinction of capturing my first one-on-one filmed interview in 23 years.
Jen is a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, studied art at Winthorp University, and is represented by Berlin's Wentrup Gallery. I'm a huge fan of her work. What I love about it is her portrayals of femme-fatale armies, Amazonian high priestesses, weapon-wielding women warriors wearing stiletto heels, and female psychonauts surveying future lost civilizations. Her art is full of superheroines rampaging in mythological and magical alterworlds. These are not subjugated women, supporting roles, or acolytes to ego-bloated male figures. Nor are they helpless Cinderellas waiting to be rescued by Prince Charming. Instead, these are representations of powerful women working together who are very much at ease with their femininity.
All artwork by Jen Ray
Jen 's artwork conveys what I call the “Feminine Daemonic”—a phrase I first coined within my Babalon Pylon and in my book on related themes, Demons of the Flesh, which was co-authored with my artistic partner in crime, Nikolas Schreck. My use of the word "daemonic" in this sense refers to the classical Greek understanding of the demon. Originally, there was no negative connotation to the word, which meant a divine essence, power, gnosis, inner wisdom, or guiding spirit. The pejorative pitchfork in the road for the term daemon appeared in the Greek Septuagint (the original Greek translation of the Old Testament), the New Testament, and in vulgar Latin usage—it's just never been the same since. My intention in creating the phrase the Feminine Daemonic was to return the understanding of the demon to its essence and origins, which are inherently feminine. Hence the added requisite “feminine” is there for contemporary minds to differentiate it from the modern idea of the demon as a vulgar and malignant being.
All this being said, it's not as though Ray's art is only for women. A strong woman in her own right, Ray understands the precious interconnectedness between the male and female principles as a union working together, rather than opposing forces. Ray wouldn't want the symbolism of her male figures in her work, who are always portrayed as animals, semihuman beings, or massive cloaked and hidden figures, to be misinterpreted as inferior to her human-appearing heroines. These representations are acknowledgment of the primal might that is uniquely male and complementary to the females. Take Ray's picture of a breathtakingly pale and delicately clothed priestess, who rides an immense wild boar—an image that is reminiscent of the mythological Europa who rides a wild bull. The Greek goddess Europa's origins are in the ancient Egyptian goddesses Hathor/Sekhmet and the Phoenician goddess Astarte, all of whom were consorts of the storm god, Seth-Typhon, often depicted as a wild boar or bull due to his strength.
An example of Ray's understanding of the male/female dynamic working in union is her frequent use of a gold chain in her art. The symbolism of the chain refers to the famous surrealist collaborators and lovers, Lee Miller and Man Ray. Lee, a model, artist, and muse to the surrealist movement, was the only female war photographer to gain access to Hitler's Munich apartment, photographing herself nude in Der Führer's bathtub, serendipitously on the very day Adi blew his brains out. When artist/photographer Man Ray met Miller, he was so intoxicated by her, he declared that they should be linked by a golden chain.
There's so much symbolism interspersed in Ray's art, that time flies when you’re taking in all the details. I saw a cheap beat-up, abandoned car in the midst of ruins with a mocking license plate that read “2RICH4U” in one painting. In a different work, the phrase “Easy Livin'" was scrawled into a scene that brought to mind anything but “easy.” Needless to say, there was a lot of ideas to soak in.
Ray's use of vivid water colors and intricate detail expand across massive sweeps of textured watercolor paper. As a mystical artist myself, another important aspect of her work I appreciate is her unambiguous and balanced use of negative space. It's rare to find artists who can sensitively convey the ephemeral within the context of the obvious. Ray has a fine sense of contrasts and incongruities—shifting between the beautiful and the repulsive, the vibrant and the void.
As for the exhibition title, “Better to Reign in Hell than Serve in Heaven,” well, what can I say? As one who's done a little of both, I prefer the middle: being the reigning servant for a heavenly god in a hell-realm paradise. Besides, hell is so filled with ego-maniacs, all believing that they're the only one John Milton was referring to, it gets pretty stuffy and crowded down there.
Zeena Schreck is an artist, musician, animal rights activist, Tantric Buddhist, spiritual leader of the Sethian Liberation Movement (SLM), and co-author of Demons of the Flesh: The Complete Guide to Left-Hand Path Sex Magic. Her most recent music release is Radio Werewolf's The Vinyl Solution - Analog Artifacts: Ritual Instrumentals and Undercover Version.
Check out more of her work here.
Visit Zeena Schreck's website.
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Previously - A Tale of Two Birds and Tantric Meditation