© Aphelion Magazine
My horror fiction-writing alter ego Jim Mountfield has just had a new story called They Draw You In published in the July 2019 issue of the webzine Aphelion.
They Draw You In came about through a desire to write a scary story set in an art gallery. Not in a world-famous gallery, like the Louvre or the George Pompidou Centre in Paris, or the National Gallery or Tate Modern in London, or the Guggenheims in New York or Bilbao – all of which I’ve been lucky enough to visit over the years – but in a small provincial one. A gallery where the artists whose work is on display are less well known or not known at all, where the artwork itself is probably variable in quality, and where the overall vibe is unglamorous and unassuming… but also unpredictable, because you just don’t know what you’re going to find there. One place that inspired the story was an art gallery I explored in the Romanian town of Brasov a few years ago. The premises were cramped and the visit was brief, but some of the things I saw were memorable – because they were slightly eccentric and odd.
Because I wanted to make the setting drab and ordinary, but also disorientating and disturbing, I suppose I tried with They Draw You In to emulate the work of the Liverpudlian writer Ramsey Campbell, who’s made a career of taking drab, ordinary settings and characters and doing disorientating and disturbing things with them. However, while I wrote it, I found myself borrowing ideas too from the life of notorious occultist Aleister Crowley who, as well as being a magician, theologian, drug addict, mountaineer, poet, novelist and self-styled ‘wickedest man in the world’, was – yes! – an artist.
I was slightly dismayed after I finished the story to sit down one evening with my better half and watch a new movie on Netflix called Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) – and discover that it too told a horror story set in the world of artists, paintings and galleries. Would it cover exactly the same ground as They Draw You In? Well, I don’t think so. I enjoyed Velvet Buzzsaw and particularly enjoyed its savage ridiculing of pretentious art dealers and art critics, but I found it all over the place in terms of its horror elements. Things happened in it without rhyme or reason: one character was dismembered by a machine in a modern art installation, another was murdered by a creepy figure from a modern art installation, and another again was swallowed by paint that magically flowed out of a wall mural. Hopefully, the idea at the heart of They Draw You In is more consistent and coherent.
Incidentally, the half-dozen paintings that appear in the story are inspired by real-life ones. Those real paintings are Fix Your Eyes by Fiona Michie, Journey in a Carriage by Alfred Wierusz Kowalski, The Little Street by Johannes Vermeer, Fishers in the Snow by John Bellany, The Lark by George Henry and (obliquely) The Spell by Sir William Fettes Douglas. With the exception of Kowalski, who was Polish, and Vermeer, who was Dutch, all those painters were or are Scottish. So although the Caledonian art scene isn’t usually the first thing that springs to mind in connection with Scotland, it’s clearly had a big influence on the humble horror scribe Jim Mountfield.