Today is October 31st – Samhain as it’s known in Ireland and Halloween as it’s known elsewhere. As is my annual custom, I will celebrate the occasion by putting on this blog ten of the creepiest or most disturbing pieces of artwork that I’ve come across during the past year.
To start this year’s round-up, here’s a haunting picture by American artist Aron Wiesenfeld, who seems to specialise in depicting frail, vulnerable-looking figures stuck in the middle of bleak, supernaturally threatening landscapes. This one evokes the ‘trapped in the woods’ trope that’s been common in modern American horror films from The Evil Dead (1981) to The Blair Witch Project (1999), and to The Cabin in the Woods (2012). It also gets power from its ambiguity. We don’t know if there’s something lurking in that dark gap between the trees, but we certainly don’t want the lady to venture in and find out.
© Aron Wiesenfeld
Next, I’d like to pay tribute to an artist who passed away earlier this year. David Palladini was well known for his ornate, colourful and imaginative versions of the Tarot cards and Zodiac figures, but the work that I’m most familiar with is this poster he designed for Werner Herzog’s stylish 1979 gothic horror movie Nosferatu the Vampyre, featuring Klaus Kinski in the role of a bald-headed and be-clawed Count Dracula. The look of the poster is decidedly Art Nouveau, which nicely captures the sense of tragic and doomed romanticism underlying Kinski’s physical grotesqueness.
© Werner Herzog Filmproduktion / 20th Century Fox
From vampires to werewolves – and I was delighted to discover this image recently because I remember it vividly from my boyhood. The picture, by prolific British horror / fantasy artist Les Edwards, once adorned the cover of a paperback novelisation of the 1975 British horror movie The Legend of the Werewolf. I read the novelisation when I was 11 and too young to see the film itself in the cinema. Three years later, I caught up with the film on TV, and even at the age of 14 I found it pretty unremarkable. (Though it benefited from having a good cast, including Peter Cushing, Ron Moody and, in the role of the werewolf, Scottish actor David Rintoul.) The novelisation was actually much better than the film deserved. Not only was Edwards’ cover art memorable, but it was written by the distinguished British fantasy author Robert Holdstock under the pseudonym Robert Black.
© Les Daniels / Sphere Books
Here’s an illustration from another book, though one whose contents are rather more acclaimed than the storyline of The Legend of the Werewolf. It’s from the 1912 Hodder and Stoughton edition of The Bells and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe. The illustrator is French-British artist Edmund Dulac, who also applied his talents in less fantastical, more everyday areas, for example, by designing banknotes and postage stamps. Dulac even created a stamp to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, although by a cruel irony he died just one week before the coronation took place in 1953.
© Hodder and Stoughton
I find skulls creepy, especially when juxtaposed with the living, so I have included this item by the Japanese artist Takato Yamamoto. The positioning of the skull and the adjacent face, and the amorphous background that seems to swallow the bodies of the subjects, makes it resemble a dark and grim version of the famously spangly works of Gustav Klimt. (Klimt actually did once produce a sinister painting featuring a skull.) What gets me is the black, shaggy material surrounding the skull. Is it a hairy coat? A hairy blanket? Is it fur covering a body and pair of arms? Are we looking at a skull-faced, black-pelted demon from Japanese folklore? (Yamamoto comes from Japan’s Akita prefecture, home of the famous Namahage ogres. So I wonder if this is meant to be a zombie Namahage.)
© Takato Yamamoto
Also shaggy in places is this demonic creature beautifully drawn in black and white by Hannes Bok who, like the better-known and more prolific Virgil Finlay, illustrated the contents of American pulp-fiction sci-fi, horror and detective magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. Obsessed with the occult, Bok became increasingly reclusive in later life and died in poverty in 1964. But he at least had the honour of winning one of the first Hugo Awards (for best cover art) when those now-venerable awards were inaugurated in 1953.
What next? I like this detail taken from the bottom right-hand corner of The Last Judgement, painted between 1525 and 1530 by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Cranach was apparently a mate of Martin Luther, which may explain the baleful relish with which he depicts sinners being stuffed by vile demons into a pit populated by even viler demons.
Here’s something I found on a now-defunct website called Tomb of Insomnia. I have no idea what its title is, or who the artist is, or what it’s meant to represent. But it looks hideous.
From Tomb of Insomnia
I started this blog entry with a picture of a female figure eerily contrasted with a dark space and here’s another one, courtesy of the South Korean illustrator Yoonji Lee – although there’s less ambiguity about what’s occupying that dark space. The piece’s title, With Her Demon, gives some clue as to what we’re looking at. I haven’t been able to find much information about Yoonji Lee and only discovered this picture on the Twitter account 41 Strange. She’s not to be confused with wholesome-looking Korean TV actress Lee Yoon-ji, whose name kept cropping up when I tried to Google her.
© Yoonji Lee
Finally, here’s a picture to connect Halloween with the next big festival on the calendar, which is of course Christmas. The caption, if you can’t read it, says: “Bring in another!” It’s the work of the celebrated cartoonist, artist and author Gahan Wilson. To me, Wilson always seemed like the missing link in the cartoon world between purveyors of classic gothic macabre-ness like Charles Adams and Edward Gorey, and the more modern oddness of Gary (The Far Side) Larson. Sadly, Wilson is not in good health these days and his stepson recently launched a fundraiser to help pay for his care and medical bills. Donations can be made here.
© Gahan Wilson
And that’s my ten for October 31st this year. Happy Halloween!