Just in time for All Hallows Eve, Brooklyn’s Stephen Romano Gallery will present Jel Ena’s latest solo show, ‘Sanctum Inferno’. Jel Ena is a Serbian born multi-media artist living in her adopted home of Los Angeles. She comes from a family of professional artists in every field who supported her pursuit of the fine arts. Jel Ena attended the Academy of Fine Art, University of Belgrade, where she received her MFA in painting. She has been showing in galleries around the world where her work is widely collected, as well as freelancing in the movie, tv, video game industry as a designer.
October 29, 2015 | 5 – 9pm
*Artist will attend
October 29 – December 15, 2015
117 Grattan Street | Suite 112 (corner of Porter and Harrison)
Brooklyn, New York 11237
“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.”
SYLVIA PLATH, The Bell Jar
Notions of the shadow self have resided in our collective consciousness long before the musings of Carl Jung. Jekyll and Hyde mythologies, Succubi, She-Devils and Medusa archetypes have been seen to of originated as far back as Ancient Egypt. Particularly in their feminine form these figures merge dualistic boundaries under soft curves and flesh. Pleasure and pain, desire and repulsion, power and vulnerability dance beneath the surface taking it in turns to play the lead.
Jel Ena’s Sanctum Infernum explores this dynamic paradigm with a series of female portraits. Like the title suggests, hell isn’t black or red – in this case it’s a thousand velvety shades of sepia. Jel’s subjects have the desirous feminine wiles of a pulp fiction female protagonist. Graphic and bold, their fleshy humanity delights. Yet they also carry that gothic sense of mystery. As if they’ve swirled up from a flame, they tumble out of gestural strokes gathering broken deers, skulls and horns in their wake. Unlike their stereotypical counterparts they have the ability both to be loved – and to love. This sense of vulnerability adds a richness and warmth to what could be treated as a monochrome state of affairs.
Steeped in an artistic upbringing with a traditional arts education, Jel has the luxury of being able to bend her skill to the will of her story. Sanctum Infernum sees a return to the classical potentials of graphite – perfect for rendering the intricacies of shadows. As Halloween nears and the creatures crawl out of the dark I got to discuss infernos, process and poetry with this enigmatic artist. . .
Sanctum Infernum. I love the title of your show. It suggests a duality, a balance and that yin and yang style energy. In some ways it reminds me of the Devil card in Tarot. Hell can be a place it’s occupants are somehow comfortable with? It’s almost like there’s a reverence in suffering. Can you tell me more about the thoughts behind this show? Are your characters at home in their inferno?
Sanctum Infernum is a dichotomy of terms – A contradiction that is present in all of us. A conflict, a never ending effort to balance things out. As much as these forces are contradicting, they cannot exists without each other. Just like light cannot exist without darkness, heaven without hell, sacred without profane/ internal.
The idea for the show sprouted from conversations with Stephen Romano about one of my older pieces titled “The Devil in Love”. That particular piece was created in 2012 and was used for the poster for a theatre play in London. The play was an adaptation of the novel “The Devil in Love” by Jacques Cazotte (1772). In a nutshell, the devil – after being summoned by main character – appears in female form, falls in love with him and of course, tries to seduce him. What made a lasting impression on me was the adaptation itself by the play’s director, Venus Raven. The demon/devil appearing in female form was of particular interest to me as I had been exploring this idea before. I don’t necessarily see this occurrence as something evil since I am not religious. What I was interested in exploring is the power and control this female demon could have, as well as her vulnerabilities.
Your work is often melancholy rainbow palettes or moody sepia tones with splashes of red. How do you work with colour? It’s such a signature of yours so is it one of the areas you start with?
I like to stay free, unbound to any particular style, movement or trend. My colour palettes reflect this. I try not to repeat myself and maintain a creative process that is interesting and inspiring. Inspiration for my work is mostly drawn from personal experiences, inner torments, emotions, joyous moments, sorrows, and dreams. Such a wide array of emotions and experiences that can not be expressed with just a singular colour palette or one technique. I simply don’t know how to do that. I have to have it all at my disposal. All my paints, my drawing supplies, brushes, watercolours, inks and etc.
Before I start, I re-examine how I feel about my next project. How I feel at the moment decides what my colour palette is going to be. Sometimes I feel like creating a symphony where I need to use almost every colour and all the instruments I have in my studio, and sometimes 2B mechanical pencil is enough to execute a whole piece.
I’ve noticed another signature in your work is the juxtaposition of highly finished areas that bleed off into almost graphic mark making. There’ll be a perfectly rendered face that melts into gesture and line. It’s almost as if you want the audience to see the hand of the artist. Is this something that has evolved over time?
I prefer to “say” only what I think is important, the rest should be read between the lines or brushstrokes. Not everything should be said or pre-digested for a viewer. It leaves little room for the imagination to take over.
Your work is often described as female eroticism. How do you view the nature of female sexuality in your work?
Ahh the touchy subject! Sexuality and eroticism in art continue to be taboos in our society, even at this day and age. It is sad that the human race has a problem evolving on that matter. We, as a society, are still ashamed of our bodies and uncomfortable with nudity. That is not my problem. I feel a very strong connection to nudes and I have been drawn to them and their radiance (to say the least) since I started making art. To me the nude body is a body in its purest and most beautiful form. It is how we came to this world, naked. Nature made us like that, yet we proclaim it as shameful.
I don’t think about sexuality and eroticism when I create, things just happen. I suppose people see my work as female eroticism because I draw a lot of nudes, sometimes more than one in a composition. They see it as erotic; I see it as a dialogue. The dialogue that occurs first between me and my work, then it is off to the world to converse with a viewer.
Your hero, J.S. Sargent said, “I do not judge. I only chronicle.” I get the feeling that you don’t judge your girls, their desires, their infernos. Is this the case?
Yes I think that is accurate, yet unlike Sargent, I chronicle an unseen world, one that resides with me. J.S. Sargent knew exactly what he was doing when he made Madame X, in terms of the provocative nature of it presented in a matter of fact portrait style. I think I do something similar. I created in this series a world of pleasures and pains from a perspective of a nondescript viewer leaving the works’ provocation open to interpretation without the weight of my own opinions of them burdening them to pieces.
Tell me a bit about your process. Do you work with an entire series in mind? Do you begin with the materials you want to use?
Usually I don’t work with entire series in my mind, but this time I did. I have a sketchbook where I record, almost daily, my feelings, my deepest and roughest thoughts and experiences that can be transformed into ideas. Often they are written, sometimes roughly sketched out, and always stored securely, (goodness forbids someone finds them as they are ugly and illegible and only I can decipher them). This sketchbook came really handy for the creation of artwork for the show.
I wanted this whole series to be almost monochromatic. There are some raw umber washes and hints of red but that’s about it when it comes to colour. I used mostly graphite, graphite powder and black and white pastels on hand-toned heavy watercolour paper that I mount on cradled wood panels. Since I don’t like to put my drawings under the glass when they are finished, I seal them with several coats of varnish so they can be hanged as they are.
Salve Me Fons Pietatis
I love your collaboration with the poet Scott Reeves. I see fine art/illustration and poetry as similar in so many ways. Unlike novels or films there’s little room or time to spell out a story. Both art forms require the use of poignant abstract moments to allude to deeper truths. They rely on the audience to fill the gaps. Does this resonate with you?
Absolutely! Scott and I have been collaborating since 2010. Working with him has been an experience like no other. What I find fascinating is that there is very little verbal communication needed when we collaborate. What is enough for both of us it to see/read each other’s work and create a response.
Poetry uses forms and conventions to suggest a different interpretation of words, or to evoke emotive responses, where fine art uses visual language to achieve a similar effect. Presenting people with both poetry and visual art “shifts the emotional centre” according to Robert Creeley.
Once again I will mention a dialogue. It is what both art forms engage in when communicating with a viewer/reader, making them active participants in the never ending creative process. I am happy to add that Scott is contributing to this show as well. He wrote ten poems that will be displayed with my work in the gallery as well as in the catalog for the show.
Jel, if you were in a your studio one night, surrounded by all your works and your girls came to life – would you get out alive by morning or would you have a royal hangover?
To be honest, I would be very excited and scared to death at the same time. I’d like to answer this question with one of Scott Reeves poems:
Lux ab Intus
It’s a love song, the way the needles
of my fingers hold you, this red thread
that pulls through the glint. It is fire and
blood and it scars us both. I only know hunger
and the lies I need to feed it. This mouth is raw
with prayers. I will consume you but first
you will know pleasure.
I shall end on something both huge and simple. Why do you make art?
Because I have to.
Lux Ab Intus
To follow this exhibition you can find out more at Stephen Romano Gallery.
To see more of Jel’s journey stay up-to-date on Facebook.