Modern Art | Facing the Beast Within - Artist Jeremy Penn

Facing the Beast Within: The Power of Animal Instinct in Sexuality

In the 21st century, we like to imagine that our approach to sexuality has changed significantly since the days of our ‘cave men’ ancestors.

Indeed, ask any man or woman about sexuality, and they are likely to refute the idea that their sexual behavior is anything like that of ancient Homo sapiens; which, according to the Swiss writer, Johann Bachofen (a highly influential writer in the field); was chaotic, aggressive and promiscuous.

These days, with our courtship rituals; online dating, nightclubs and bars, marriage and monogamy, we take pride in our status as superior, sophisticated beings; our behavior a world apart from the crude, animal techniques of our ancient relatives.

Acknowledging the Animal Inside

According to some of the most highly regarded psychologists and scientists in the world (such as Freud and Darwin), the truth of human sexuality is actually a very different matter indeed.

Although our methods of attracting a partner and having sexual intercourse have changed over the years, our motivations and overall approach has not. More simply put; we are all still animals, and like any other creature on the planet, we’re driven by the need to procreate. Our techniques for acquiring sex may have changed, but in all other aspects, we remain exactly like our ancient ancestors; animals motivated by strong sexual desire.

Jeremy Penn Graffiti Painting

Savage Beasts: Evolution and the Ego

The subject of human sexuality has always held a strong fascination for me. In past work, my focus was very much on the power of the gaze; the irresistible non-verbal signals given by a simple stare, capable of manipulating, exploiting and inspiring.

With my latest collection, titled ‘Evolution and the Ego’, the significance of the gaze is still integral to the work as a whole, but the role it takes within the work has been subverted. Now, the importance of the gaze no longer lies with the subject, staring out of the canvas, but with the viewer, staring in; who, through use of reflective material, is forced to take an active role in the process.

Beyond the mirrored stainless steel casing, the viewer is induced to examine a hidden world, lying within the framework of words such as ‘beast’, ‘savage’ and ‘lust’. Explicit sexual images from magazine cut-outs of the 1940s, 50s and 60s are assembled in a chaotic cacophony of naked limbs, exposed flesh and challenging, thought provoking phrases, such as ‘something for the boys’ and ‘blonde bomb from Sweden’.

Who is the Predator and Who the Prey?

Of course, using words such as ‘beast’, ‘hunt’ and ‘savage’ serve to strip sexuality of all pretence. In these images, sexuality ceases to be a sophisticated event and instead, is reduced to pure animal instinct. However, both words are laden with extra meaning. Both imply a level of predatory behavior; an element of stalking, of aggressively laying claim to a ‘victim’.

But, when displayed beside other words, such as ‘tease’, ‘evolve’ and ‘power’, other questions are raised. When it comes to sexual behavior, just who is the hunter and who is the hunted? Who holds the power? 

It’s likely that most people, as a gut response, will assume that the male takes the dominant, aggressive role, and the female becomes the submissive prey; unable to defend herself against the sexual demands of her partner.

However, words such as ‘tease’ and ‘gaze’ serve to challenge this assumption. When it comes to sexual teasing, or the use of a potent gaze to captivate and manipulate, women tend to have all the power, and men are often powerless to resist.

Self-Analysis and Recognizing the Truth of Sexuality

The purpose of the ‘Evolution and the Ego’ collection is not only to raise important questions about animal instinct and power-struggle in sexual behavior, but also to force the viewer to recognize their own role as a sexual being.

In each image, the viewer is presented with teasing, suggestive images; photographs highlighting sexual freedom and revolution. They’re also confronted with the animal force, the brutality of sexual behavior, stripped of the pretences of seduction, courtship and flirtation. But most importantly, they’re also faced with their own image, staring back at them, forcing them to recognize the role that they adopt when it comes to sex.

It isn’t just a case of gender, but a case of individual response. Through examining the images, the viewer must look to their own sexual behavior with a critical, appraising eye.

When confronted with the gaze of another, such as an attractive female, we can be motivated, attracted, hypnotized and captivated. However, when faced with our own, questioning gaze, we’re suddenly forced to see the truth that lies within ourselves; to ask whether in fact it is we who are the ‘beasts’ of sexual behavior, or whether in fact, we are the vulnerable ‘prey’.

Jeremy Penn's New Series "Evolution & The Ego" will be unveiled at Scope International Art Fair in Miami Beach December 2nd-7th, 2014 with Dorian Grey Gallery