Vividly Painting the Inner World: Review of Haley Josephs / by Sam Abelow

Detail, “Organs of Perception.” Haley Josephs, 2018. Picture via https://www.artsy.net/show/315-gallery-finger-in-the-hive

On a hot and humid, early September evening in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Haley Josephs displayed eight highly original paintings at the 315 Gallery. The bubbly artist, dressed in a long, blue silk kimono and matching clogs, welcomed attendees.

As I took in the “Finger in the Hive” show, it became increasingly apparent that the artist had painted herself in various guises. The impressive oil paintings featured a diverse set of female characters, many of which were adolescent or children, often set amongst a cinematic sunset, the colors bursting with an internal fire.

The series of new paintings reference various forms of kitsch, including New Age psychedelic and visionary art. However, Josephs demonstrates an understanding of color symbolism, reminiscent of Paul Gauguin. Further, there was a sense of figurative gesture and ornate design which recalls masterpieces of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artists, such as John William Waterhouse.

Please click to enlarge images throughout the article

Selection of three paintings from Haley Josephs’ “Finger in the Hive” show. Pictures via http://www.315gallery.com/finger-in-the-hive

Selection of three John William Waterhouse paintings — member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, circa 1890.

The Powers Beyond Us

In my process of reading and finding material to tie into thoughts on Josephs’ show, I came across a highly relevant lecture by Jungian Analyst and writer, James Hillman, titled “The Red Book: Jung and the Profoundly Personal.”

Hillman opens with a quote by the poet W.H. Oden:

“We are lived by powers we pretend to understand”

Then Hillman continues:

“What Jung spent his life trying to write and make clear, is that the pretending to understand, trying to understand the powers [is a never-ending process] — and we are always up against the enormous limitations of the mind and of language in attempting to understand the powers that are living us. [It is important] to enter the realization that we are being lived, that we are not the sole agents — that the ego is a myth, a figure. I have never met one anywhere, except a word somewhere. All of that are attempts to understand the powers.” 

There is much in Josephs’ artistic philosophy that connects with the psychology of C.G. Jung and Hillman’s views specifically. Throughout Josephs’ show are characters of her unconscious psyche, what the gallery’s press release describes as a world “that can only be imagined,” and which “reveals deep instrapsychic conflict.” This word, “intrapsychic,” is an important revelation, indicating an awareness of the many personalities — the powers — which live within us all.

The characters portrayed in Josephs’ work are all women. The artist suggests that this emphasis on the feminine is a comment on larger cultural questions.

She states that, “The way the world is now is so much fact-based. But, we need to go to a feeling based, feminine consciousness. The idea of the feminine consciousness is based in feeling, a searching for goodness in the heart.” [1]

My background in Jungian psychology has brought me to similar conclusions, which I outline extensively in a review of a group show at the Paul Kasmin Gallery, titled SEED.

Suffice it to say here that a case for the missing archetypal feminine aspect in the broader culture and the need for individuals to honor the functions of feeling and intuition, has been an ongoing process. This development may be at a certain apotheosis at the present time. That being said, in this review, I will focus on the specific imagery present in Haley Josephs’ show.

Intuition, Feeling and the Archetypal Feminine

Haley Josephs has identified, and likely experienced firsthand, the ways in which our culture tends to reject the subjective nature of psychic reality in favor of a rationalism concerned with the objective world and the pursuit of goals within a materialistic paradigm.

Furthermore, like Jung, she has recognized the faculties of intuition and feeling as being minimized in a culture like our’s today.

Carl Jung outlines conceptual terminology for this in his work, “Psychological Types.” [2] The archetypal masculine is associated with the “thinking” and “sensation” functions, the dominance of which Haley is reacting against philosophically through her artistic practice.

Josephs’ said in an interview that, “[Painting is] the only tool I have to speak my language. I think through painting I am seeking truth. Painting, when its good, is the best truth revealer. I’m trying to reveal truth, [in a way that] is feeling-based and intuitive, as opposed to fact-based.” [3]

Jung himself was an intuitive and advocated for a renewal of the archetypal feminine. Exploration of psychic life itself is an orientation towards the feminine, often through the introverted-intuitive function. (I go into detail on this topic in Part Two of the SEED review.)

James Hillman, like Haley Josephs, emphasizes fantasy and feeling as important modes of perception in the same lecture referenced earlier.

Fourteen minutes in, Hillman speaks of image, color, melody as the expression of the psyche. He quotes Jung, stating that, “Imaginative activity is the direct expression of psychic life,” and goes on to say that, “Psyche creates reality every day. The only expression I can use for this activity is fantasy.” [4]

Hillman continues:

“We think there is the inner world and the outer world, hard reality — something tough, real, cold. That reality is a fantasy also, it’s just not recognized as one, and we call it reality. What we call “reality” is a fantasy that has become stubborn and blocked and become obscured from the flow of psychic energy in it.” [5]

Through the vehicle of painting Josephs opens up her fantasies, the vitality of her inner world. By taking her fantasies seriously in artistic expression, she invites us all to do the same.

Hillman reflects on Carl Jung’s own imaginative paintings, stating that Jung, “Let the figures of the imagination speak.” Hillman notes that, “We must remember how difficult it is to let them speak in our culture.” [6]

In an interview, Josephs said: “I’m trying to set myself free — to see clearer. So I can move forward in my seeking of truth.” [7] Jung was doing the same. With each individual who shows a deep respect and attentiveness to the imaginative aspect of the psyche, there is a model for each person to do the same. With each exploration, the potential for growth is there.

Inquiry into the Unconscious

Speaking in terms of a personal journey, I want to make a note — with all the sensitivity that can be conveyed in writing.

A purely reactionary stance against thinking and sensation runs the risk of over-dependence on the feeling and intuition. Although the external predominance of materialism is harsh, it is important to internally access all the functions to the best of one’s ability.

In this way, we each can find a reconciliation of the archetypal masculine and feminine. (I expand on this, somewhat personally, in a section on “Eros and Logos”) Additionally, it is important to remember that figures of the psyche can be “duplicitous and even malevolent.” [8] Therefore, any careful inquiry into the realm of the unconscious will retain a sense of discernment and responsibility.

That being said, Josephs’ aversion to analysis of her imaginative figures, and to thinking itself (as opposed to her natural capacities of intuition and feeling), is something important to look at further.

The Limits of Rationalism

Rationalism, especially in regard to modern psychology and neuroscience, as divorced from the evident mystery and enigma of psyche, is exemplified in the writer and philosopher, Sam Harris. In a recent debate in Dublin, it becomes all the more clear that Harris believes that our experiences can be reduced to rational “facts,” objectified statements about “reality.” For Harris, the notion that there is a field of information that cannot be apprehended by reason is baffling and disagreeable. He has total faith that the entirety of experiential reality can be translated to a specific domain of human consciousness— that being rational thinking.

Artists like Haley Josephs recognize and express the limits of rational understanding. Within a single chapter of Jung’s work there is a plentitude of quotes affirming Josephs’ perspective on the limits of rationality and thinking functions.

Jung writes, “The unconscious displays contents that are utterly different from conscious ones, so strange, indeed, that nobody can understand them.” [9]

And in regard to his work of identifying and explaining the phenomena in a scientific way, Jung explains:

“The psychologist has to contend with the same difficulties as the mythologist when an exact definition or clear and concise information is demanded of him. The picture is concrete, clear, and subject to no misunderstandings only when it is seen in its habitual context. In this form, it tells us everything it contains.” [10]

This is what Haley Josephs is referring to when she speaks of “truth” in a painting.

“But as soon as one tries to abstract the “real essence” of the [overall] picture, the whole thing becomes cloudy and indistinct. In order to understand its living function, we must let it remain an organic thing in all its complexity and not try to examine the anatomy of its corpse in the manner of the scientist, or the archaeology of its ruins in the manner of the historian.” [11]

Heeding this wisdom, I will attempt to do my best to circumvent and touch upon the imagery specific to Josephs’ latest presentation, without overly reducing their contents and rendering them dead in the process.

Persephone as the Eternal Child and Guide to the Underworld

After gaining the insight that throughout the “Finger in the Hive” show, Haley Josephs paints herself in different guises, I was curious about the relationship between these various figures.

Climb Everyone Mountain, Ford Every Stream, Haley Josephs 2018. Picture via http://www.315gallery.com/finger-in-the-hive

The front wall of the gallery featured a very large canvas, titled “Climb Everyone Mountain, Ford Every Stream.” The imaginative landscape, animal friends and hidden faces, reminded me of fairy tales, Henri David Thoreau’s references to spirits in the woods, as well as the archetypal motif of Persephone, as Kore (the latter referring to the “eternal youth”).

The story of Persephone begins with an idyllic situation:

“Persephone was having a good time, along with the daughters of Okeanos, who wear their girdles slung low. She was picking flowers: roses, crocus, and beautiful violets. Up and down the soft meadow. Iris blossoms too she picked, and hyacinth. And the narcissus, which was grown as a lure for the flower-faced girl by Gaia [Earth].” [12]

This aspect of Persephone, as the child, is an essential image of the archetypal feminine. The return to the state of mind embodied in such a figure can be indicative of what Jung termed a “regression in service of the ego.” That is just to say that exploration of a child-like, imaginative mindset can be nourishing to the development of the personality.

Exploration of this playful state of mind, and its association with the Earth Mother, as a healing process is elaborated upon in two particular lectures (that I found fascinating, but which are addressed specifically to women). The first lecture, by Sylvia Brinton Perera, is titled, “Mother Earth Body Self,” [13] and the second is “Same Sex Love: Archetypal Reflection” by Karin Lofthus Carrington. [14]

It appears that for some time there has been an ongoing renewal of the archetypal feminine. The phenomena of regression into the “womb of the earth,” either through outward seeking of nature, or through indulging an inner fantasy world is emblematic of a revival of the feminine. Furthermore, exploration and acceptance of the body, eroticism, sexuality, sensuality, as well as socio-political and fashion trends towards androgyny, development of identities of gender which exist along a spectrum are all aspects of this resurgence of the feminine, specifically in Her polyvalent Earth Mother aspect.

Touching upon all of these different manifestations, we can see that these subcultures are emerging, being stirred by a shift in the archetypal landscape of the collective psyche. Carl Jung noticed this missing element and noted in the context of commentary on Kore:

“It is immediately clear to the psychologist what cathartic and at the same rejuvenating effects must flow from the [Mother and Persephone] cult into the feminine psyche, and what a lack of psychic hygiene characterizes our culture, which no longer knows the kind of wholesome experience of the Elusian mysteries.” [15]

That is all to say that I cannot be sure as to an interpretation of what the Persephone and Kore motif in Haley Josephs’ work means.

I will just point out that in regard to a psychological understanding of the Persephone myth, that the maiden is abducted into the underworld. She eventually does return, but is forever changed, and is henceforth known as the Queen of the Underworld.

“Teenage Dream.” Haley Josephs, 2018. Picture via http://www.315gallery.com/finger-in-the-hive

Author of “Goddesses in Everywoman,” Jean Shinoda Bolen explains that the process of becoming the fully adult woman can be challenging for the Persephone type. Women with this archetype active in their psyche are given to depression and other kinds of psychological disturbance. Haley Josephs’ painting, “Teenage Dream,” expresses this sort of adolescent longing, indicated by a dreamy, vacant stare, hinting at an existential void. The sense that one is not quite whole, or free, is often projected and given over to the romantic ideals of love — hence the hearts of smoke — and it is not until the young woman becomes fully in touch with her values, ideas and sense of purpose, that her adolescent angst is cured.

Bolen explains further the mature aspect of Persephone, the Queen of the underworld:

“[She] represents the ability to move back and forth between the ego-based reality of the ‘real’ world and the unconscious or archetypal reality of the psyche. When the Persephone archetype is active, it is possible for a woman to mediate between the two levels and to integrate both into her personality.

“Persephone the Guide is the archetype responsible for the sense of familiarity the person feels when she encounters symbolic language, ritual, madness, visions, or ecstatic mystical experience.” [16

Installation view, “Organs of Perception” and “Teenage Dream.” Haley Josephs, 2018. Picture via http://www.315gallery.com/finger-in-the-hive

It this aspect of Persephone that is so vivid in Haley Josephs’ painting, “Organs of Perception.”

The strong colors and quirky doodles in Josephs’ paintings are connected to the child-like aspect of Persephone, as Kore. Additionally, the intense psychedelic imagery is related to Persephone as Guide to the Underworld.

Raphaelites and Ayahuasca Psychedelia

Elements of Haley Josephs’ work remind me of certain un-attributable psychedelic and New Age illustrations found all over Tumblr, circa 2011- 2013. These aesthetics are inspired by the often romantic, sentimental and surreal inclinations of the unconscious psyche — as manifest in myth, fairy tale, dreams, fantasy, and, of course, psychedelic vision.

Various artworks found on Tumblr circa 2011 - 2012. Artists unknown.

Similarly, the flowery design and special attention to the youthful maiden, as muse, subject and adoration in painting, reminds me of the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite artists of the late 1800s.

Left and center is John William Waterhouse. Right is John William Godward. Both Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painters, circa 1890.

“Organs of Perception.” Haley Josephs, 2018. Picture via http://www.315gallery.com/finger-in-the-hive

“Organs of Perception,” a large painting by Josephs, is reminiscent of visionary and psychedelic art, such as the Ayahuasca-inspired artist Pablo Amaringo.

Associated with the use of Ayahuasca is the goddess Pachamama, originally from the Andes. Presently, goddess worship is found in devotees of Ayahuasca and other plant medicines who often come on pilgrimage from America and Europe.

A selection of works by Pablo Amaringo

Intuition, Feeling and Artistic Expression

The artistic practice of Haley Josephs is another example, amongst a concurrent of movements, of an individual seeking the truth held within the archetypal feminine. Her trust in intuition and in her ability to express her feeling through color and figurative representation is not only a seeking of truth for her personally, but a larger cultural statement. Josephs painterly ability to combine a disparate range of influences and to handle intense color is easy to like; I look forward to more from her in the coming years.

Footnotes

1: Oeuvre Unlimited: Haley Josephs, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-Ke5RGVQLU

2: For more read: “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, Volume 6. Carl Jung

3: “Haley Josephs talks to Austin Lee about her new paintings.” Two Coats of Paint, 2018. http://www.twocoatsofpaint.com/2018/03/haley-josephs-talks-austin-lee-new-paintings.html

4: “James Hillman - The Red Book: Jung and the Profoundly Personal,” Originally taped in 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBQWN0fL430

For more on this reference: http://www.jungatlanta.com/articles/winter12-visiting-the-red-book.pdf

5: Ibid

6: Ibid

7: “Haley Josephs talks to Austin Lee about her new paintings.” Two Coats of Paint, 2018. http://www.twocoatsofpaint.com/2018/03/haley-josephs-talks-austin-lee-new-paintings.html

8: “It can never be established with one-hundred-per-cent certainty whether the spirit-figures in dreams are morally good. Very often they show all the signs of duplicity, if not of outright malice.”  Carl Jung, Collected Works Volume 9i, Paragraph 397.

9: Collected Works, Volume 9i, Par. 493, Carl Jung.

10: Collected Works, Volume 9i, Par. 307, Carl Jung

11: Ibid

12: Homeric Hymn to Persephone, Stanza 5.

13: “Mother, Earth, Body, Self.” Lecture by Sylvia Brinton Perera, 2014. http://jungchicago.org/blog/mother-earth-body-self/

14: “Same-Sex Love: Archetypal Reflections.” Lecture by Karin Lofthus Carrington, 2015. http://jungchicago.org/blog/same-sex-love-archetypal-reflections/

15: Collected Works, Volume 9i, Par. 317, Carl Jung.

16: Goddesses in Everywoman, Chapter; Persephone: Guide to the Underworld, Jean Shinoda Bolen. Harper Books, 2014.