“I could even go as far as to say that without the anima and animus there would be no object, no other human being, because you perceive differences only through that which is a likeness to the differences in yourself” (Jung, Visions Seminar, p.1357).
According to Carl Jung, the anima and the animus are two of the main anthropomorphic archetypes that populate the collective unconscious. The animus is the unconscious masculine side of a woman, and the anima is the unconscious feminine side of a man. This area of analytical psychology was of particular interest to Mark Ryden when creating his latest series, Anima Animals.
These anima figures have appeared throughout Ryden’s career as a bridge between the physical world and the immaterial world. Central to his first solo exhibition, The Meat Show, is a painting called ‘Snow White’ (1997). Above, the female subject is visited by a toy bunny in a signal of spiritual awakening. This “special divine messenger” was inspired by 1950s plush animals that Ryden found during one of his routine trips to the flea market; he recalls a moment of epiphany:
“When my eyes fell upon a scruffy old stuffed rabbit with a rubber face, I knew with complete certainty that it was the divine being I was searching for” (Anima Animals, 2020).
Anima Animals is a spinoff of this character, complete with drawings, a portrait gallery of ensouled stuffed animals and three porcelain sculptures. Joining Ryden’s gang of amorphous yaks are, among others, the ‘Pink Bunny,’ the ‘Magic Bear,’ the ‘Bee’ and the ‘Messenger.’ Wide-eyed and rosy-cheeked, these furry friends wear the same expression as the little girls that frequent Ryden’s work. In each case, they’re likened to self-portraits:
“They’re anima figures; they’re soul figures…They’re sort of everybody. They’re you when you’re looking at the painting” (Ryden, 2014).
The first painting in the series: Salvator Mundi (Latin for ‘Saviour of the World’), corresponds to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Renaissance painting of the same name. In 2017, the piece was sold at auction for a record $450.3 million. It got Ryden thinking about how a modest object could hold such unfathomable value. The answer was simple: “…it shines with the sacred and eternal” — much like that same tattered toy that transcended its physical presence twenty years earlier.
This time around, Ryden’s soul searching was compounded by a recent safari in Kenya on the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It was a life-changing experience that revealed to him the spiritual power of animals and that he went on to replicate in Anima Animals. While his renderings are technically born into their ornate, hand-carved wooden frames, they aren’t confined to them. Instead, they roam freely in the imagination, and if you pay close enough attention, you may just see yourself.