As those of you who’ve been following this blog recently may have noticed I have become increasingly interested in art which has a metaphysical turn particularly art in which takes an interest in the world is magic spirit dreams and the mystical. Actually I’ve always had an interest in this, however getting to actually see exhibitions of artworks of this type were up until quite recently very few and far between. So while I have always known about artists such as Leonora Carrington and Remedios Vara I never had any opportunity to see their work or work of any artists inspired by them I was aware for a long time of the metaphysical aspects of Mark Rothko’s and Jackson Pollock’s works but they’re still rarely talked about in relation to metaphysics and spirituality.
I welcome the metaphysical turn which has taken place in art in recent years not just that it has inspired new artists I admire, like Tai Shani, Hazel Florez, Libby Bove and Ben Edge. Even more excitingly, artists who have been working in this area for a long time are finally gaining the recognition that they actually deserve. Two artists whose work I admire very much are Australians Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule and Melissa Artemis Shemanna.
Melissa is not only a passionate painter and curator but also the visionary founder of the Honey Bee Temple. Established as a non-profit private arts foundation, the Honey Bee Temple is dedicated to the production and promotion of visionary, magical, and esoteric arts. Originally founded in Melbourne, Australia, Melissa has now brought the Honey Bee Temple to the United Kingdom, where she continues to exhibit her mesmerizing artwork and organize thought-provoking projects throughout the UK and Europe.
Melissa’s artistic creations primarily consist of oils and mixed media on canvas. However, she also embraces the collaborative nature of art by engaging in painting collaborations in mixed media with the renowned artist Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule. Together, they explore the depths of creativity, merging their unique perspectives and techniques to produce captivating pieces that transcend traditional boundaries.
In Melissa’s own words, she proudly states that her work is deeply rooted in the totemic lineage of the Honeybee Dreaming Priestess. She sees herself as an oracular embodiment, a vessel through which esoteric knowledge is channeled and passed on as sacred ritual. Each of her canvases serves as a visionary portal, inviting viewers into a realm where the mysterious and profound intersect. Through her art, Melissa engages in a potent magical rite, weaving together symbolism, spirituality, and artistic expression.
It is fascinating how Melissa has chosen the motif of the Honey Bee as her artistic symbol. This choice holds profound significance, as it beautifully reflects an interconnected truth. Just as humanity cannot thrive without art, the honeybee remains an essential pollinator of life on Earth. Melissa’s profound understanding of this relationship serves as a powerful reminder that art, like the honeybee, is crucial for the survival and enrichment of our world.
Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule is a well-established Australian painter, sculptor, writer, and performer who is heavily influenced by esotericism, magic, Eastern mythology, and alchemy. His alchemical artwork is principally found in four lavishly drawn volumes, Conjunctio 2008, Coagula 2011, Solve 2012, and Distillatio 2015 (Fulgur Press). He also produces ritual shamanistic films and theatre events. I saw one of his films, Hermes, at Trans-States in 2022 and it was amazing. Orryelle employs alchemical images and symbolism from a variety of traditions in a syncretic and practical way. He is interested in the ensoulment of objects through aesthetic obsession; the merging of mental, spiritual, and emotional relationships with creativity. Long established as an important practioner-artist, Orryelle is a master of the esoteric in art.
I took the train to the charming coastal town of Hastings! After taking a leisurely stroll through the gorgeous Old Town and indulging in a delectable lunch, I had the pleasure of exploring the Hastings Museum. Despite my previous visits to Hastings, I had never set foot in this hidden treasure, which I now regret as it boasts an abundance of fascinating exhibits. The awe-inspiring Durbar Hall astounded me. This majestic hall, adorned with intricately carved and panelled woodwork, was expertly crafted by skilled Indian artisans for the 1886 Colonial & Indian Exhibition in London.
Hastings Museum’s diverse ethnographic collection that includes objects from India, Burma, China, Japan, Indonesia, the Middle East, the Balkans, Scandinavia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, and the Americas. Many of the objects on show in the Durbar Hall have a sacred, mystical or symbolic aspect. All are resonant with the cultures where they originated. However, on display in the Hall, they connect and communicate with one another in a remarkable way.
The largest part of this collection area was donated in 1919 by the Brassey family, and it holds great historical significance. It originally belonged to Anna Brassey (1839–1887), a remarkable woman who had a passion for exploring and collecting. Lady Brassey’s travels in the 1870s and 1880s allowed her to amass a wide variety of remarkable artifacts. Her collection is a testament to her adventurous spirit and love for capturing moments through photography. Hastings Museum also offers a diverse range of exhibitions, including an enlightening local history exhibition on Aleister Crowley and the fascinating show I came to see, Oneiropraxis. It’s truly inspiring to see how this museum continues to engage visitors with its innovative programs.
Connected to the Durbar Hall is the Walkway Gallery, where I saw Oneiropraxis, the small but wonderful exhibition of Orryelle and Melissa Shemanna. The effect of the conjoining of the two spaces was profound and even unsettling in a good way. I can describe the experience as one of going from the metaphysical to the material. Because both artists work in a way which is syncretic and deep, the case can be made for seeing their work as elemental. Invoking a range of godforms and different aspects of human consciousness (mental, emotional, sexual), the narrative of the exhibition guides the viewer from a state of chaos through the creation of forms to a deep inner consciousness and then — out of the door — to material culture and the Babel of diversity and plurality.
I viewed the exhibition from the gallery entrance walking toward the Durbar Hall, which created a narrative for me — one that starts in the chaos of becoming, moves through the different levels of being into the celestial zones and then — whoosh! Out into the material world of experience represented by the Durbar Hall and all its various artefacts. I’ll just mention a few of my highlights of the show — actually I loved the whole show — and then you can peruse the whole catalogue yourself!
Of his astounding cosmic painting The Tunnel of Egress, Orryelle says
“Created from a kind of Pareidolia (scrying in patterns) with layers of overlapping paint swirls, only some of the figures thus divined have been since fully defined, so that an in-between space is created for the viewer to also potentially go on their own pareidolic journey into/out of the spiral’ For me, this picture conjured up the swirling beginnings of all things, emerging from mystery into being.”
Godforms are important in Orryelle’s work and I asked him about them — if he deliberately invoked them. He said that, rather, they appeared to him when they needed to; usually, he did not need to craft an evocation. However, some godforms are clearly resonant for this artist — his Dionysos is so splendid and — to me — so spookily accurate (in that it is exactly how I imagine Dionysos — a God I am a bit obsessed with) — that it made me shiver with recognition and pleasure.
Orryelle’s work demonstrates acute awareness of the art historical representations of such godforms and he does not reject these classical depictions, but he crafts his own, using similarly intricate and complex techniques. As he says in the catalogue:
‘The Ancient Thracian (later Greek) God of Drama, Ecstasy and Intoxication ‘splits open his head’ to reveal fantastic worlds within, the dreaming inherent in (and out of) our minds.The golden thread woven through the canvas represents a gift from his consort Ariadne, who abandoned Theseus for Him after helping that hero out of the Minotaur’s Labyrinth. I figure Dionysos needs this solar thread of reason even more, so he can find his way back from madness and ecstasy of exploring the unfathomable contents of His own psyche and worlds of dreaming intensity.”
The third picture in Orryelle’s exhibition is Babalon on The Beast, which is of course a reference to the Biblical Whore of Babylon from the Book of Revelation; but of course it is much deepr and more meaningful than that. His Babalon is indeed the Scarlet Woman, a being of great power, not one to mess with. Just looking at her is inspiring!
Babalon is fascinating: she can be connected to ancient female deities such as the Sumerian Innana or the Phrygian Cybele. These goddesses — and others — had huge followings in ancient times and were disdained by the Hebrews and the early Christians, partly because their rites included sex and sex magick and ‘sacred prostitution’. But in rejecting these goddesses, they also rejected the female sexual principle and by extension, female sexuality, leaving us with the unpleasant virgin-mother-whore triad that has oppressed so many generations, of women.
One of the major accomplishments of the occultist Aleister Crowley is, I think, his restoration of the female goddess to power and prominence in the pantheon. Babalon (also known as the Scarlet Woman, Great Mother or Mother of Abominations) is a deity found in the occult system of Thelema, which was established in 1904 with the writing of Crowley’s The Book of the Law. In his Aleister Crowley Manual, author and occultist Marco Visconti says that the name Babalon first appears to John Dee as an Enochian word meaning wicked harlot. But for Crowley, the figure is akin to Shakti the secret power underlying all of creation and residing within ourselves. She is considered a sacred harlot because she denies no one yet she extracts a great price: the ego identity. As Visconti says, ‘Babalon is a multifaceted and incredibly complex egregor that divide defies every attempt to pigeonhole her’. He cautions that it is problematic to cast her solely as a feminist icon: although she does embody that role, she is a vector of transcendence. You do not have to be a Thelemite (I am not) to find Babalon exciting and challenging: She stands for the radical acceptance of everything and its transcendence.
Melissa Shemanna makes her own pigments from earth ochres, moon blood, pants and other materials whenever she can, and this is manifested in the rich tones of her paintings.Melissa’s Inanna Starfire Queen also invokes the Goddess. As Melissa says,
‘Originally I painted this for my own temple space; I wanted to recreate the Inanna/Ishtar burnley relief as a personality & ceremonial power totem. So I used my moon blood as the red letter of Lore to express her rich red tones, and copper leaf for the background glow. The totemic animals were painted with my hands in hand-collected Australian ochres, for a raw feel and to venerate her Earthly connection’.
Melissa points out that we need Inanna because have almost forgotten our ancient female deities, ‘She is the emissary between the worlds and has the ability to move beyond the veil. Her female lineage goes way back to a time we can barely remember in our ancient sacred texts.’ So overwritten have we been by monotheism, that we forget that most of our human history was not monotheist and goddesses were prominent — they injected a strong female spirituality into everyday life.
Trinary Code is a particularly fascinating piece. A gorgeous, mind-challenging puzzle that I can’t tear my eyes from. As Melissa says
‘ Trinary Code is a dedication to the brilliant and inspiring MC Escher, who has influenced my entire art journey. …Trinary code is a flexible exo skeleton of bio-intelligent life forms that assemble and disassemble according to the needs of their purpose, in this case as a möbius strip. They are fluid, yet a structured plasmic substance that responds to programmable codes.’
She points out that ‘Trinary codes are also indicative of a way to harness the natural rhythms of the universe and the Fibonacci mathematical harmonic codes rather than a binary-0–1-coding we use today in computing.’ This, I think, is a very compelling statement and throws down a challenge to us to make that shift in consciousness. The picture serves as the very emblem of that shift. Beautiful.
It was difficult to choose the third painting of Melissa’s to feature in this review, but finally, I chose Ancestral Songlines of the Honeybee Priestess. It is a self portrait, painted in moon blood along with oil and tempera paints, alchemical gold salts, crushed frankincense and rose oil, all applied to the canvas. Declaring herself, Melissa says that her alter ego, the Honeybee Priestess, is ‘the Bee Priestess, the Melissae, the Pythia oracle conduit from Gaia. She calls up her ancestral meeting of pre Celtic origins and weaves them with her Australian original knowledge of the southern and northern hemispheric poles’. It is a lovely and powerful self portrait.
I must admit that I am quite a fan of self-portraits. In her comprehensive and remarkable book Seeing Ourselves: Women’s Self-Portraits, Frances Borzello eloquently states that “contemporary women artists possess a profound awareness of the possibilities of art. “ Their knowledge and understanding of both their predecessors and the challenges and joys of womanhood allow them to constantly explore new forms of self-expression that reflect the concerns of today. Melissa’s approach, which combines feminism, spirituality, and esotericism in her self-portraits, is a prime example of this evolving art form. I am eager to witness more artists embrace the metaphysical, delve into new spiritualities and symbols, and assert their unique understanding of themselves as artists. Moreover, Melissa’s work transcends what Borzello refers to as “present-day concerns” by delving into the depths of human experience, femininity, and our interconnectedness with the world and the cosmos. By associating herself with the source of life — the honeybee — Melissa takes a bold stance for the intricate interconnectedness of human existence with even the tiniest aspects of Gaia.
I’ve probably written too much now and gone down too many rabbit holes, but I hope this article has opened you up to two fascinating and wonderful artists whose work I recommend that you follow. You can follow them on Instagram and view the full catalogue of Oneiropraxis
All photos of artwork are ©Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule or ©Melissa Artemis Shemanna.
Other photos are ©GillianMcIver and may be used with permission.