The writer referred to me as an art specialist, which makes me a little nervous because I am definitely not a specialist in anything, merely an enthusiast! And I’m not sure I said exactly what the title of the piece is implying (I think some things got lost in translation) but hopefully, readers will understand the spirit of what I was trying to convey.
I have copied our original Q&A below in its entirety if anyone is interested! I have peppered the paragraphs with a few artworks from the book to break up all the text and add visual interest; please note the published interview on the Solidaridad Digital website, does not include these extra images.
• What is the radical difference between the art of darkness and what we could call art of light?
Light and dark are two of the most fundamental tools that artists use to create their work. They can be used to explore shapes, patterns, movement, and atmosphere. But as viewers, we often notice the symbolism of light and dark before we even realize it. Light is often associated with life, goodness, and hope. Darkness is often associated with doom, gloom, and death. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind about that, but in my book, The Art of Darkness, I wanted to explore those dark themes and the negative feelings/emotions that they elicit.
I think we can learn a lot from our demons and our darkness if we stop being so scared of it and really listen to what it’s saying. It’s easy to look at a light, beautiful painting. But why not challenge yourself to peer into the discomfort of a “dark” painting and see what you learn? You might learn something about the painting, the artist, or even yourself. So next time you’re at a museum or art gallery, don’t be afraid to check out the dark paintings. They might just surprise you.
• Do you agree with Seamus Heany’s statement that “everything I know is a door to darkness”?
I think it’s a seemingly bleak statement, evoking a sense of despair or hopelessness that might have been true for the poet, it might be true for anyone at some point in their life. When you can’t see beyond the darkened door, you could well imagine that the darkness could go on forever. Limited by our perspective, we can’t see the whole picture. This can be intimidating but it’s also a liberating realization. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to learn and grow and expand your world! You won’t know what’s beyond the threshold until you step through it.
• What does it take for a dream to become a nightmare, for flowers, as you explain, a symbol of life and hope, to become a threat?
That’s such an interesting question! It’s so subjective and personal, really, I mean the nightmare is in the eye (and experience and association and trauma) of the beholder. A flower blooming in the spring sunshine is dreamy, idyllic imagery, indeed…but what of the toxic sap? Or the spiderweb trailing down its stem, what of the writhing snake in its shadow? What of the dark woods looming beyond the grassy meadow?
Dreams can turn to nightmares in the blink of an eye, but if you are an arachnophile, if you are a snake handler, if you love a solitary stroll through a hushed forest–none those are going to seem all that nightmarish to you anyway! It’s fascinating to see how different artists take these ideas of innocent blooms or poisonous petals and create art that can be cheerful or dreadful, or maybe a delightful tangle of both at once–it’s all a manner of perspective.
• Is there a link, as Jaspers maintained, between art and madness?
I am no expert when it comes to matters of psychiatry (nor for that matter, when it comes to matters of art) but I think a link is certainly insinuated and has made its way into our culture, because of artists who did suffer from psychological issues and who did create some of their most renowned works while institutionalized. I think there’s more to it, though, and it’s a harmful conclusion to draw. I don’t know if a troubled individual creates art because of their pain or in spite of it, but I am inclined to believe the latter.
But what of an artist who suffers from severe depression so relentless that they haven’t got the energy or will to create? Because they were not able to produce art, or something of worth from their pain, does that negate their experience? The relationship between mental unwellness and creativity has a long history and I have to imagine there is still a lot to explore. But…from a very human perspective, I don’t accept that we are obligated to draw forth the pearls of art from the anguish of our wounds.
• How does the historical context condition the art of the dark (I think, for example, of the Victorian Era, where, in addition to Jack the Ripper, Dracula, Frankenstein, Hyde…) emerged?
Art, both light and dark, is a mirror of society. It often captures the spirit of the times in which it was created. Art can show us the social, political, and economic conditions of a particular time period. It can also reflect the cultural values and beliefs of a society, as well as the artistic styles and techniques that were popular during that time.
Dark art can be a powerful way to explore the historical context of a particular time period. It can give us a glimpse into the social, political, and cultural forces that were shaping the world at the time. And it can also help us to understand the human experience of living through difficult and uncertain times. For example, during the Black Death, European artists created many works of art that depicted the death and suffering caused by the plague. These works were often deeply religious in nature and reflected the widespread fear and anxiety of the time. (And let’s not forget that a viewer’s understanding of a painting of a skeleton from the Middle Ages may be different from their understanding of a painting of a skeleton from the 21st century!)
To answer your question, the Victorian era, with its Frankensteins and Draculas, was a time of significant social and cultural changes. Britain had become a powerful industrial nation thanks to the technological breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution, but this also led to rampant poverty and inequality. Grappling with new scientific and philosophical ideas that challenged traditional beliefs, many artworks at that time reflected the religious and intellectual turmoil of the era. And don’t forget the Victorian obsession with death and mourning—historians named this fascination with death “the Cult of Death”—thanks in part to the high mortality rates at the time and to Queen Victoria, who, after the death of Prince Albert, was to spend the next forty years in mourning.
• What types of monsters preside over our time?
In 2023, my first thought goes straight to robots, cyborgs, machines becoming sentient, that sort of thing. Beings enhanced with technology, and all the dangers that transhumanism and artificial intelligence represent. There are chilling questions of surveillance and control, the anxiety of living in a world where the line between human and machine is increasingly blurred, and the fear of living in a world where we can be utterly replaced by machines altogether.
Just look at the upsetting conversations that have sprung up around AI-generated art and art theft, with regard to actual artists whose works were used without their consent to fuel image generators. A.I. runs on a database of images harvested without the original creators’ permissions–I think that’s pretty monstrous.
• For a monster to be considered such, what does it require? Because there are monsters that we understand and almost admire (I think, for example, of Hannibal Lecter) and others that we would run away from without thinking)
Monsters are often seen as being outsiders or “other”. They might be physically different from humans in some way, or they may have different values and beliefs. This makes them seem threatening and dangerous; it’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand–and they represent something unknown and uncontrollable. Sometimes those attributes might be just outrageous enough to inspire awe and admiration–not necessarily fear and revulsion. But beliefs and philosophies are one thing; action and behavior is another. There’s a big difference between admiring a monster and actually wanting to hang out with one. If your monster starts doing cruel, sadistic, or destructive things, it’s time to put your admiration on hold and listen to your survival instincts. After all, who knows if you’re next?
Sometimes the most dangerous monsters are the ones who seem charming and harmless at first. They lure us in with their masks, then show us their true colors. All that said, monsters are symbols of and vessels for our fears and anxieties, whatever those might look like for the individual. They represent the things that we are most afraid of, whether it is death, sickness, giant spiders, or dapper cannibals. By confronting monsters in stories, myth–and art–we can explore our fears and anxieties in a safe and controlled environment. So the next time you’re watching a movie, feel free to face your fears and cheer for the monster, but look out for those red flags, too!
• Of all the disturbing artists that wander through these pages, which one do you feel especially fond of and why?
I especially adore Alex Eckman-Lawn’s art, which also happens to be gracing the cover of the book. Deep, dense, full of doom and gloom and dark details, his surreal, lonely collage portraits, on one hand, call forth a sickening dread in the pit of your stomach and give your heart a little lurch. But on the other, and at the same time… they cause an involuntary, choking giggle. As if a shadowy horror had crawled its way from the void to the sanctity of your home, and after an agonizing wait whilst you cower at the peephole, it gives a smart rap on the door and tells you a knock-knock joke. When you think of them in that way, instead of a face-full of nightmarish chaos, they appear wondrously playful, like a funny postcard from the midnight recesses of your soul, just when you need it most. Oh, hey, it’s just your dear old skull peeking out to say hello, that’s all, no worries! Little voids, the faces-within-your face, checking in on you from the inside, popping out to say, “hi!”
I love losing myself in the nocturnal shivers of art that evokes a feeling of darkness, but I also appreciate a keen sense of the absurd. I have massive admiration for artists who can combine these sublime sensibilities in their practice, and these works of the kooky and the macabre, often filled with sly, weird humor are some of my favorite canvases to gaze upon.
• I think of artists that you notice, like Dorothea Tanning or Remedios Varo. What influence did psychoanalysis have on the expansion of the macabre, of the dark in art?
Surrealism was all about exploring the weird and wonderful world of the unconscious mind, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis theories. Surrealist art often looked like dreams, with strange and sometimes disturbing images that were meant to be spontaneous and free from conscious thought and the restraints of society. But it wasn’t all utopian visions; tapping into the subconscious with its primal human fears and desires sometimes gave rise to violent or nightmarish imagery, which ranged from unsettling to downright shocking.
• In addition to those mentioned, many others such as Bourgeois, Ruth Marten, Nona Limmen… do they differ from them when it comes to representing the dark?
I think they all differ uniquely! Ruth Marten was a pioneer of underground art; the work I included from her Fountains & Alligators series, wherein she has altered a number of somber nineteenth-century French prints to include inexplicable instances of alligators, meshes with that sublime spirit of the absurd that I referenced above. Nona Limmen’s lush, atmospheric photographs bring the otherworldly realm of fairy tales to life– if “once upon a time” always began at the stroke of midnight. Louise Bourgeois’ spider sculptures are an arachnophobe’s biggest nightmare, and though psychologically fraught, they are exceedingly clever in their twistiness. Every artist represented in the book brings a darkness to the table, worthy of delving into –just bring your curious heart and your open mind.
• What role does the supernatural play in our disbelieving society?
Whether a belief in the supernatural provides a sense of comfort and hope, or helps you make sense of the world, or whether you come from a culture heavily steeped in supernatural lore and tradition or maybe you’ve just had a powerful supernatural experience–there are many valid reasons why someone would believe these things. Even if none of the above applies to you, you still might be drawn to the mystery and excitement of it…even nonbelievers may be curious about the supernatural, or even fascinated by it! Look at all the supernatural themes we enjoy across a wide swath of entertainment– all of the vampires, zombies, ghosts, and otherworldly creatures, in our books, movies, TV shows, and video games! Even if you have no use for the supernatural in any other respect, I think you’ll be drawn to them in the art that thrills and delights you–whether it’s spooking you from the pages of a book, scaring you on the big screen, or emerging from an artist’s eerie brushstrokes on a painted canvas.
Friends who give the marvelous gift of books for the holidays! I have a handful of signed copies left of The Art of The Occult, The Art of Darkness, and The Art of Fantasy. I may be biased but I think those are all excellent treats for your mystically, macabre, and fantastically minded friends!
I will not be restocking before the new year, so if you’ve been thinking about grabbing one, or both, or all three—now’s the time!
Here is the link to purchase and please note that I’m only shipping within the U.S. at this time. If you wish to place an order for more than one book, I’m not actually set up to do that through PayPal, but email me at crustyoldmummy AT gmail dot com and we will work it out.
I’ve written way too many words already about the process of putting together a visually-rich, image-heavy book like The Art of Darkness (or The Art of the Occult, for that matter), but suffice it to say there are many, many reasons why a piece of art, maybe even a piece of art you had expected to see, might not show up within the pages of these books. So many reasons! And sure, it’s possible that maybe this or that artist/artwork didn’t occur to me to include them, I mean, I haven’t seen all the art there is to see in the world, and I don’t know everything there is to know …but I’m fairly confident in telling you that whatever it is you think might be missing from a book of dark-themed art, those omissions probably don’t boil down to reasons of me forgetting it or not being aware of its existence.
Many people have asked me questions along the of what’s not in the book and why, or what I would have liked to have included but could not, so I thought you might be interested to see a handful of works that I would have loved to have featured in The Art of Darkness, but for whatever reason, we just weren’t able to work it out.
I want to repeat that I am so, so beyond thankful and grateful to the artists that I was able to work with! This book would have never come together if not for you! And I don’t think these missing works detract from the overall book-I’m very happy with it!
Still… there are a few of them that felt a little tragic not to see them in the finished project. See below for a gallery of art-shaped holes in my heart (and book), as well as some notes/thoughts on each.
Baba Yaga with Moth and Beetle, Tin Can Forest
Tackling “ancient narratives from the perspective of the shadows,” Tin Can Forest is the collaborative duo comprised of Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek. Illustrated with moody, fog-saturated colors,drawing inspiration from the forests of Canada, Slavic art, and occult folklore, and interwoven with secretive symbolism, esoteric emblems, and magical motifs, these fables meander and twist, a miscellany of deep folklore and nonsensical cautionary tales, and populated by a nightmarish menagerie of creatures, spirits, and familiars.
Edgar Bundy (1862 1922) specialized in detailed historical paintings in oil and watercolor, typically in a narrative style, a genre which was very popular in the Edwardian time Bundy lived in. In March 1895 a newspaper headline in England read: The Tipperary Wife Burning, describing the tragic and violent death of an Irish woman named Bridget Cleary, a dressmaker who was immolated alive as a witch by her husband and family. The death of Bridget Clearly became a focal point of culture while the trial ensued; at the time, Irish home rule was an active political issue in England, and the press coverage of the Cleary case intensified the debate over the Irish people’s ability to govern themselves. The public would have been reminded of Bridget Cleary case when viewing this painting wherein Bundy has possibly portrayed a witch to remind the British public of Ireland’s superstition, and to question their own opinions about whether or not Ireland was capable of ruling itself. Or, although darkly fantastical, it is merely just a depiction of someone’s idea of a witch.
Circe resplendensMargaret Deborah Cookesley 1913
Margaret Deborah Cookesley(1844-1927)was an English painter who traveled to the Middle East and painted scenes in oils and watercolors. Cookesley is noted to have visited Constantinople, where the sultan commissioned a portrait of his son; he was so pleased with this that he asked her to paint his wives as well, but she did not have time for this commission. She exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Society of Women and was awarded the Order of the Chefakat and the Medaille des Beaux-Arts in the Ottoman Empire. Scholars point out that Cookesley’s work was intended for a mass market rather than as a form of high art. Thus, instead of appearing in museums, her paintings entered private collections where they continue to be traded among collectors. Circe here, despite her powerful splendor, wears a look of loneliness and loss as she stares away from us to something just outside the canvas. Perhaps she also wishes this artist’s splendid works were more widely known.
La Celestina, Pablo Picasso 1904
Painted during his Blue Period, in La Celestina (1881–1973) Pablo Picasso depicts an old woman who is dressed in somber colors, partially blind, as indicated by her milky, malformed eye. The painting is said to be inspired by Spanish literature, a character, also named Celestina, in a 15th century Spanish play, Aurora Roja. In the play, Celestina is a sorceress and procuress who casts magical spells and mixes portions. It is reported that Picasso was always fascinated by Spanish literature, ever since his adolescent years. While in Spain, he read various editions of the Spanish play.The theme of blindness had a personal meaning for Picasso, who so predominantly lived by his eyes. Equating this infliction with a sharpening of the senses, blindness signified a deeper vision; a true glimpse of reality without the restriction of physical sight.
Untitled, Zdzislaw Beksinski, 1972.
Polish painter, photographer, and sculptor Zdzisław Beksiński (1929–2005) specialized in dark visions of dystopian surrealism. Beksiński had no formal training as an artist but made his paintings and drawings in what he called either a ‘Baroque’ or a ‘Gothic’ manner. In the late 1960s, he entered what he referred to his ‘fantastic period’, which would last until the mid-1980s. During this time, he created very disturbing images of nightmarish post-apocalyptic environments with intensely detailed scenes of death, decay, and landscapes filled with skeletons, deformed figures, and deserts. At the time, Beksiński claimed, ‘I wish to paint in such a manner as if I were photographing dreams.’ For the most part, the artist insisted that even he did not know the meaning of his artworks and was uninterested in possible interpretations; in keeping with this, he refused to provide titles for any of his drawings or paintings.
Goddess with Flares, from the portfolio “On Fire”, Judy Chicago 1972, printed 2013, inkjet print on paper
Judy Chicago (b. 1939) is an artist, author, feminist, educator, and intellectual who for over five decades, has remained fiercely steadfast in her commitment to the power of art as a vehicle for intellectual transformation and social change. Her audacious and genre-defying practice spans painting, textile arts, sculpture, and installation. Judy Chicago first turned to pyrotechnics in the late 1960s, during a time when the southern California art scene was almost entirely male dominated. Chicago recognizing the divinity of the Earth and our necessity to protect it from ourselves has noted, “I spent a considerable amount of time working on images of the feminine as sacred, drawing on scholarship that had demonstrated that all early societies were goddess worshipping,” she says. ”We need a God figure beyond gender so that both men and women can see themselves in the Godhead.”
Eve & Lilith, Harmonia Rosales
From the inception of her career, contemporary artist Harmonia Rosales’s (b.?) primary artistic focus has been that of Black female empowerment in Western culture.Her paintings, depicting and honoring the African diaspora, seeks to reimagine new forms of aesthetic beauty through art that challenges ideological hegemony in contemporary society. The black female bodies in her paintings are in memory of her ancestors, expressed in a way to heal and promote self-love. In Michelangelo’s ‘Fall and Expulsion of Man’ and Titan’s painting ‘The Fall of Man,’ Lilith is portrayed as the snake of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Rosales reframes Eve’s encounter as not one of sin, rather awakening, and that ultimately, Eve and Lilith are one and the same.
The Fates / Les Parques Gustav Adolf Mossa1917
A French artist and late Symbolist painter whose eccentricities evoke Surrealism but whose obsession with femme fatales and hearkens to the preoccupations that haunt the decadent imagination. Gustav Adolf Mossa’s works are watercolor delicacies that bely their entrancingly eerie themes and perverse delights. The Fates are a common motif in European polytheism, most frequently represented as a trio of goddesses who shaped the destiny of each human, often expressed in textile metaphors such as spinning fibers into yarn, or weaving threads on a loom. The Fates were three female goddesses who shaped people’s lives, determining how a person would live and their individual allotment of misery. These three arbiters of kismet and consequence wear knowing expressions, as if to assure us that “our suffering will be legendary, even in hell.”
THE WHORE BABYLON, Ernst Fuchs (Draft for the Parish of St. Egyd, Parish Church of Klagenfurt), 1995
Oil-egg tempera, mixed media on wood panel
Ernst Fuchs (1930 – 2015) was an Austrian painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, architect, stage designer, composer, poet, and one of the founders of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.His paintings, sculpture, and prints address themes of religion and mysticism, executed in luminous colors and textures, which is achieved by mixing egg tempera with paint and resin. The Whore of Babylon is described in the verses 17:3—4 in Book of Revelation: “And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of names of blasphemy with seven heads and ten horns. The woman was garbed in purple and scarlet, and gilded with gold, gems, and pearls, and bearing a golden goblet in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.” Babylon the Great, commonly known as the Whore of Babylon, refers to both a symbolic female figure and place of evil Fuch’s version of this grand dame of apocalyptic significance is rendered in the artist’s typical textured and sumptuous style, and she looks like she came to party.
Llanthony Abbey, John Craxton, 1942 Ink and watercolour on board
John Craxton 1922–2009 was championed from the age of 19 as one of the great hopes of modern painting in Britain. Born into a large, musical, and bohemian family in London, the artist has been described as a Neo-Romantic, but he called himself a “kind of Arcadian.” This drawing is of the medieval Llanthony Abbey which stands in an isolated position on the bottom of a steep valley in the Black Mountains, South Wales. A portent of writhing, menacing vegetation frames the ruined Gothic abbey; this sense of an imperiled bit of secluded paradise had resonated considerably in wartime Britain.
A Little Medicine and Magic, Julie Buffalohead 2018, oil on canvas
Contemporary Indigenous American Julie Buffalohead (b.1972) creates visual narratives through personal metaphors to describe the American Indian cultural experience.As a member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, Buffalohead uses storytelling and an eclectic palette of imagery expressed through whimsical anthropomorphic animal subjects and trickster tropes to link the mythical with the ordinary, the imaginary, and the real. Through wit, wisdom and metaphor, we become aware of additional layers of meaning when engaged with her world– themes of racial injustice, indigenous rights, and abuse of power.
Swan, James Jean, 2008
James Jean (b. 1979) creates simultaneously lush and decaying fantasy worlds populated by mythical creatures in his complex, mesmerizing large-scale paintings brimming with allegorical and contemporary imagery. Fusing inspiration from the archaic, the rare, and the unconscious,the artist incorporates elements of traditional Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, Renaissance portraiture, comic books, and anime into these exquisitely detailed compositions. As he experiments with such different styles and art historical genres, Jean blurs the boundary between past and present and between Eastern and Western artmaking in his timeless dreamworlds.
“Destroyer II,” Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s2020, pencil, oil, and acrylic on wood panel.
Driven by a fascination with ancient mythologies, and ethenography multidisciplinary artist Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum (b.1980) muses on the origins of time and theories on the nature of the universe. Her works on paper, large-scale installations, and stop-motion films are rooted in autobiography, addressing the development of transnational identities, human connections, and cross-border rituals. Sunstrum’s drawings take the form of narrative landscapes that appear simultaneously futuristic and ancient, showing Black female identity to be fluid and ever-changing, a multiplicity of stories across time and often negotiate what it means to be both the hero and the villain of the same story.
Remix 01, Amanda Arcuri 2020
Contemporary photographer Amanda Arcuri (b?) explores our connection with the natural world around us. Through various techniques like dramatic lighting and long exposures in her surreally vivid photographic works, she accentuates the beauty and poetry of decaying foliage. Arcuri ritualistically burns the discarded and expired floral arrangements, using the flame and the act of burning as metaphors for change and upheaval, a dynamic opposition wherein the viewer is challenged to contemplate the ways in which they experience change and time.
The Slow Rising Smoke From Your Bedroom Window at 6:23am, Fumi Mini Nakamura, 2014, graphite and ink on Bristol papers
Though illustrator and designer Fumi Mini Nakamura (b. 1984) lives and works in the NYC-area, she was born in a small town in Japan, growing up surrounded by lofty mountains and endless ocean– a rural upbringing which has unmistakably impacted her art, which features beautifully rendered flora and fauna. Nakamura pulls from the subconscious, using metaphor and imagery to create striking pieces with each aspect carefully considered to represent elements of life, memory, body, and soul.
Old Faun (The Parterres of Aranjuez series) Santiago Rusiñol Aranjuez, 1911 oil on canvas
Santiago Rusiñol i Prats (1861 -1931) was a Spanish Post-Impressionist and Symbolist painter, poet, and playwright.Well known for his landscape art and garden canvases, he created more than a thousand paintings and it seems he died doing what he loved in 1931, while painting its famous gardens. On the surface, while not an overtly dark piece, this oil painting depicts a labyrinth awash in autumnal glow. However, the mesmerizing, winding routes of a maze can be an uncanny thing to contemplate, and for the cleithrophobic (the fear of being trapped) amongst us, this escape room avant le letter can certainly seem an endless nightmare! But remember, labyrinths are ancient archetypes, tools for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation. Used as a walking meditation, choreographed dance, or site of rituals and ceremony among other things, labyrinths evoke metaphor, mindfulness, environmental art, and community building. There’s not always a monster waiting for you at its center. Sometimes there’s nothing waiting for us at all. The importance was in the getting there. (And getting back out!)
Harm Less, Sonia Rentsch
Australian artist Sonia Rentsch (b?) is known for her clever concepts and eccentric still life scenes with a signature a dash of theatrical play and surrealism. With an eye for composition, she strives to “find the beauty in everything,” even instruments of violence. Her Harm Less series depicts a series of weapons made from organic materials –sticks, leaves, seeds, spikes, leaves, twigs, and flowers– which reflect the human proclivity to take elements of our environment and manipulate them through technology to suit our desires. Though the detailing is immense, these weapons are far from functional. They do, however, resemble forms which are instantly recognizable and invoke an emotional response.
All the Flowers and Insects, Toru Kamei 2013 Oil on Linen mounted on Panel
Tokyo-born artist Toru Kamei (b. 1976) is renowned for painting what he calls “beautiful nightmares,” bewitching oil scenes combining classical painting techniques with surrealist concepts that balance nature and morbidity. Reminiscent of vanitas paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, these works juxtapose motifs such as abundant blooming flowers and grim, hollow-eyed skulls, and a masterful use of lighting and color that suffuses these scenes of death and decay with a glowing opulence and a hushed sense of mystery and yearning through which little souls flit and flutter, seemingly untethered, yet connecting it all.
Indovina Nicola Samorì(2017) Oil on panel
Nicola Samorì (b. 1977) creates in an aura of darkness and Baroque-influenced drama, rendered in a characteristic chiaroscuro technique. His paintings are gouged, distorted, and destroyed before reaching their final state, expressions of ruinous beauty and exquisite torment. With a technique that intertwines both destruction and classic traditional art, what once may have resembled a painting akin to the work of the old masters becomes a powerful work of contemporary art creating a dialogue with the viewer of silent mutual understanding, expressing the universal horror of being-in-the-world.
Andrew Wyeth, No Trespassing, 1991. Watercolour on paper.
Andrew Wyeth(1917-2009)was a polarizing figure amongst art critics; some deride his art as drab and kitschy, and others might call it morbid or mawkish, but Wyeth’s melancholy paintings were also praised by many as profound reflections of 20th century alienation and existentialism. Love it or hate it, the central themes of the artist’s works—poverty, loneliness, existential desperation, gender and sexuality, human cruelty, of struggling to survive in an inhospitable planet—even today emanate from the canvas with a powerful timelessness that resonates with viewers and transcend the labels of the critics and commentators.
I Want to Live Honestly, Like the Eye in the Picture, Yayoi Kusama, 2009. Acrylic on canvas
A renowned Japanese artist known for her larger than life, all-encompassing canvases, Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in rural Japan into a family of merchants who deeply opposed her artistic practice. Traumatized by aspects ofboth parental figures as well as the desperate surroundings of post-war Japan, Yayoi experienced mental health issues from the time of her childhood, including obsessive-compulsive behavior and vivid hallucinations which she described as ‘flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots’ which would come to life, multiply and engulf herself and her surroundings in a process she called ‘self-obliteration’. By 1950, Kusama began covering walls, floors canvases and household objects with her trademark polka dots in reference to these early childhood hallucinations; she described these dense paintings as “white nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness.” In the mid-1970s, Kusama voluntarily checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she still resides and continues to create. For her, creating art is not just an avant-garde exercise but a catharsis, and the fulfillment of a psychological need.
At The Bottom of The Anxiety Swamp, Jayoon Choi 2017Indian Ink, Paper
London-based artist and lecturer Jayoon Choi’s artistic practice challenges the boundary between traditional drawing methods and experimental moving images to approach the audience in multifaceted ways, and is dedicated to expressing the vast spectrum of mental states that we possess, buried beneath the physical body we own. She turns various psychological states into a form of experience, and questions what forms a self. Jay states of her work, “In that numberless crowd we are continually surrounded by others, we can see ourselves as we experience the same things, going through the same systematic steps in life, despite all our many differences. Sooner or later, we all head in the same direction.”
The Haunted House. Simeon Solomon, 1855
Anglo-Jewish artist Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) until relatively recently remained a little-known Victorian artist of interest only to those immersed in Pre-Raphaelite studies. Over the past thirty years increased interest in the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes, Jewish studies, and gender/gay/queer studies have generated a resurgence of information on one of the dreamiest Victorian artist you’ve most likely never heard of. A child prodigy who showed at the Royal Academy aged 18, he went on to become a vital member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. His contemporary, Edward Burne-Jones, called him ‘the best of us all’. The Haunted House represents a moment in a gothic-toned poem of the same title by Thomas Hood (1799–1845). Solomon has drawn a woman with her arm around a young girl, peering through a doorway into a room in which a man leans over a coffin, while a female mourner holds a handkerchief to her face. The following stanza explains, “O, very, very dreary is the room Where Love, domestic Love, no longer nestles, But smitten by the common stroke of doom, The Corpse lies on the trestles.”
Strange Shadows (Shadows and Substance) Gertrude Abercrombie, 1950.
Gertrude Abercrombie’s (1909-1977) unique and transfixing dreamscapes combined the aesthetic inclinations of artists such as Salvador Dalí and René Magritte with a focus on the “psychic geography” of rural spaces. Although a notable staple of the Chicago jazz scene, often referred to as the “queen of the bohemian artists, Stein was an underrated fixture of mid-century American Surrealism. With her enigmatic portraits, landscapes, and paintings of interiors, Gertrude Abercrombie added a distinctly American, female voice to the heavily European, male Surrealist movement. Filled with eerie symbols and centered on women modeled on herself, these stark, solitary paintings often depict nocturnal journeys, meditations, and rituals, Abercrombie is noted as observing “I paint the way I do because I’m just plain scared. I mean, I think it’s a scream that we’re alive at all—don’t you?
Matsui Fuyuko, Keeping Up the Pureness, (2004), color on silk
Japanese artist and pop icon Fuyuko Matsui (b.1974) explores the haunted, interconnected realms of traditional and modern aesthetics and in doing so conjures the universally feared specters of the unknown inner self, and the inexpressible shadows that roam between the personal and collective past. In Keeping Up the Pureness, the ghostly rot of the canvas’s central figure recalls the Japanese art of Kusōzu (‘painting of the nine stages of a decaying corpse’) developed between the 14th and 18th centuries, which illustrates the decay of a human corpse with breathtaking graphical accuracy; in this modern depiction, the artist breathes new life into this centuries-old practice of capturing intimately unsettling imagery.
Boston painter Hyman Bloom’s (1913–2009) complex works combined the physical and the spiritual on canvas in drawing upon the artist’s Jewish faith, his interest in Eastern religions, and his transcendent belief in regeneration. Bloom employed thick paint in jewel-like tones to make gripping and beautiful works that challenge our concepts of beauty and our understanding of the true meaning of “still life.” In Female Corpse, Back View (1947), pictured above, he renders a decomposing cadaver with a palette of rich colors. An artist who got beneath the surface of things, exploring form and seeking significance, he remarked, in such images “the paradox of the harrowing and the beautiful could be brought into unity.”
Happy Birthday to You, Angela Deane, 2020 Acrylic on found photograph
Baltimore based artist Angela Deane (b?) while best known for her small paintings on photographs, is currently pursuing an ever-growing body of larger works on canvas. In many of her creations there is a playfulness to be found; one tied to nostalgia, the sweet married to the bittersweet, but also emerging is a strong buoyancy of spirit, a kind of spiritual mapping, both in process and evocation of the completed piece.
The Wandering Ghost, part 1 Matsuyama Miyabi
Matsuyama Miyabi defines her artistic style as “Neo-Ukiyo-e.” Juxtaposing the feminine beauty of traditional Edo-era floating world imagery with themes of death and fate and a gorgeously gloomy atmosphere, she conjures shadowy, unsettling truths and reveals the darkness of unspeakable fears. The ghosts haunting these works evoke both the old and new, the modern and timeless, the beautiful and disturbing.
Just a little face popping out of another face to let you know that If you had planned on buying a signed copy of The Art of Darkness as a holiday gift for someone, now is a great time to grab a copy …because I will be slipping some secret artsy treats in with each order. These are quite limited, so once they run out, they are gone forever!
I also want to remind you that I do still have signed copies of The Art of the Occult available. That one comes with a bookmark and my undying gratitude!
PLEASE NOTE: The shipping price listed on my site are *only* for people purchasing within the US. If you live outside the US and wish to purchase a signed copy of either book, please do not use the PayPal links on my site. Please email or message me directly. International shipping costs are nearly *three times as much* as the costs listed on my site. Again, those are US shipping costs ONLY.
First off, it never gets old, seeing a book that you’ve written on a shelf–whether your own shelf or someone else’s or in a bookshop or the library or wherever! I haven’t been to a bookstore since 2019, so seeing The Art of Darkness on my own shelf will have to do for now I guess. (Ok I just remembered that’s not true. I went to *one* but they didn’t have my book.)
But secondly …it’s time for a giveaway! Wouldst thou like to win a signed copy of The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre AS WELLS AS a print of the phenomenal cover art, Antiquity V, by Alex Eckman-Lawn?
I still can’t get over the beautiful vision that Alyssa Thorne brought to life with the darkly flamboyant gorgeousness of these promotional photos for The Art of Darkness. I mean…JUST LOOK AT THEM.
I realized that I’d shared them everywhere except for here on the blog, so today I am rectifying that oversight. And once you are done gorging your eyeballs on the profound beauty of these images, I entreat you to have a look at Alyssa’s website, where she has this week released her stunning Autumn Collection!
Today I am experiencing : that incredibly intense, violent prickle of compulsion to share ALL of the incredible art, ALL OF IT, ALL AT ONCE that has been contributed by the shadowy coven of contemporary artists who appear in The Art of Darkness. Because while I’ve given some peeks here and there…it’s just not enough!
In the immortal words of Bilbo Baggins, “…after all, why not? Why shouldn’t I SHARE THE REST OF IT??”
So here’s where a bit of magic comes in, between you, me, and the pages of this book. I am going to share it, and you are going to be mesmerized by the stygian kaleidoscope of these works–utterly ensorcelled–and you are going to follow the links and tags back to the artists and take a gander at all of the other incredible things they create, and then you are going to hit the “order” button on your bookseller website of choice, and then you are going to PROMPTLY FORGET ALL OF IT! Like it was all a strange, tenebrous dream! And then you will be surprised and overjoyed when The Art of Darkness appears on your doorstep on September 6, and you will get to see all of these pieces again for the first time.
<<INSERT BIG WINK IN THE KEY OF WEIRD>>
…but in the meantime, if you would like to learn more about a handful of these creators, you will find features and interviews on this very blog on the following artists…
I am both an appreciator of the arts as well as a patron of the arts when possible, and I realize it takes no small amount of privilege to say this, but when I am able, I do put my money where my mouth is. To me, there are few things more important than supporting the creators who toil to create the work I love.
(Of course, this is up there with making donations to the organizations that do work toward the causes that are important to you, and paying your bills. This is where I am preemptively qualifying my statement for people who might want to yell at me for suggesting that in the face of the injustices and outrages that we are dealing with, the purchase of art is a frivolity at best, or somehow a slap in the face of things that actually need our dollars …and this is a lengthy aside but I live in perpetual fear of people hollering at me and shaming me, publicly. I harbor a lot of trauma related to these feelings. Real-life, meatsuit childhood and young adult trauma, as opposed to internet stuff. Which can also be scary. Both things are true. But you know how it is when you’re triggered and time stops and you can’t breathe and your face feels like a boiling hot Hot HOT tomato that might explode. But OK.)
ANYWAY. Art is NOT frivolous. I console myself with art lately, nearly drowning myself in it. A funny way to say that its beauty buoys me, it’s the life vessel that saves me from going under. I can always breathe easier and hope for better things when I look at something beautiful. It keeps me safe. And sane. Or at least the illusion of these things. And I’ll take that. Sometimes it’s the best we’ve got.
So yes, I do spring for original pieces when I can! When I can’t, prints are awesome too. So are postcards and stickers and bookmarks! In working within your means and meeting artists where they are at, you can curate a mind-blowing collection that knocks your buns all wobbly whenever you look at it. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, the artists will permit you to use the pieces on your wall in the book that you have just written.
Anyone who has ever worked on any number of projects knows that while it’s tough to pick favorites amongst them, or favorite pieces and parts from within them…well, you’re always going to have a best-loved darling or precious or two.
Some of my favorite types of art to research and gaze upon in The Art of Darkness might not be what you’d expect to hear from me (or maybe it is if you’ve listened to my ramblings long enough!) Though I love me some ghosts and ghouls and myths and monsters…do you know what I absolutely love to lose myself in? Mysterious vistas creeping with strange flora, ancient lands, and eerie ruins. Marveling at the fragile, verdant curve of a fern, the unexpected colors and textures revealed in the heart of a crimson rosebud, a glistening drop of morning dew atop a plump, inky nightshade berry. Lonely landscapes and tenebrous topographies shadowed in wild darkness and raw beauty, where a boundless sense of nature overwhelms with breathless, bewitching intensity.
And why, even though these scenes feel fraught, fearsome, fatal – why do they still, despite everything, call to you? Why do we at times find ourselves desperate to crawl deep within these somber scenes, to disappear forever?
Do you feel it calling, too? I’ll meet you there, in the darkness.
…where you’ll also find all of the artists I have included in this post today.
I don’t think I can emphasize enough how thrilling it was, how absolutely ecstatic I am, to have been able to include the works of some of my favorite contemporary artists in The Art of Darkness. Creators whose visions speak to the shadowy, unfathomed corners of my heart, to my weird, wild wiggly brain noodles, to the strange mystery of my soul.
Here is another favorite spread in the book, featuring Rachael Bridge whose electric-technicolor and sunless somber palettes and portraits make me gasp in awe (HOW does she do that??) and Jana Brike’s dreamy works of vulnerable transformation and poetic exploration.