Macabre art: gothic pop, October 10 2006

In the second part of our Macabre art trend report, WGSN rounds up the sinister, surreal and eerie – all influential for mood and graphics. Are you ready to be lured by the dark side?

There’s always been something dramatically kitsch and lowbrow about the modern gothic, from a hammed-up vampire film to the “penny dreadful” cheap horror fiction of the Victorian era.

For a contemporary take on the trend, look to a similar lowbrow taint in Gothic Pop (or Pop Surrealism), whether it’s tattoo art or burlesque influences.

Also, roam the internet like a cyber-flâneur for niche domains and MySpace groupings – the contemporary gothic pop subculture now has a nerdish aspect.

Look no further than London-born Ray Caesar, who we came across showing in Toronto. Not so much lowbrow but incredibly well-crafted, we were immediately captivated by the details of his entirely computer-generated images.

“The nature of my work is always in line with the idea of creating a small heaven for troubled spirits… a place of calm and safety,” the artist told WGSN.

Caesar worked as a medical graphic artist for 17 years for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto before learning digital animation and creating sci-fi paintings for TV shows such as Stargate, Total Recall 2070 and Relic Hunter.

Sinister, surreal and eerie, these images give only small clues and symbols as to their relevance to Caesar, whose focus is on the superconscious and “the contrasts between light and dark, innocence and ferocity, beauty and horror, pleasure and pain, anger and humour”.

There’s also a strong element of intense craftsmanship involved. His digital images of doll-like creatures in surreal scenarios are full of infinite detail, featuring reflections upon reflections. He equates this virtual, self-generated dimension with an alternate – almost religious – universe.

“I am fascinated by the concept that this three-dimensional space exists much as another reality and, even though I turn the computer off, I am haunted by the fact that this space is still there,” writes Caesar.

The same level of minute detail and craftsmanship can be found in Mark Ryden’s work, although his style is entirely painterly. Los Angeles-based Ryden is a leader in this gothic pop/pop surrealism genre.

He is a self-confessed collector, fascinated by old museums and cabinets of curiosities. His last collection, titled Wondertoonel, was inspired by the drawings, made in 1706, of Dutch merchant Levin Vincent’s collection of preserved and taxidermied animals, skeletons, fossils, corals and seashells.

There’s also a morbidity to his work – look at his “Blood Series” of “miniature paintings of sorrow and fear” which mimic Victorian Memento Mori.

“When I walk around the halls of a museum, I have experiences like those of learning about the world I had in childhood. Beyond the great art museums of the world, some of my favourites include medical museums and museums of natural history… In the same spirit as those earlier collectors filling their cabinets of curiosities, I feel compelled to collect quite a variety of things,” writes Ryden.

Also take a look at the at the paintings and sculptures of Joe Sorren and explore his fantastical, fairy-tale world of sloth-like creatures and ET-shaped dolls.

This pop gothic genre is also highly influential for graphics. The WGSN Graphics team, Chris Coleman and Becky Turl, recommend the work of Camille Rose Garcia. Her Dreamtime Escape Plan show was created in response to the tsunami disaster.

Garcia says: “Disaster is an everyday occurrence in this flooded world… Using narrative painting and symbolism, this show explores the power of the subconscious to deal with the horrors of the modern world and depicts a sense of helplessness, like in those dreams where your feet are stuck in cement and you can’t run.”

Of her other book, The Saddest Place on Earth (2005, Last Gasp Press), she writes with apt black humour: “…[it] would look lovely sitting on a coffee table, hanging around with other books, or brightening up your average prison cell.”

Jeremy Fish’s website Silly Pink Bunnies is another favourite with our Graphics team, who like his sinister, manga-inspired “beaster bunnies” and deformed biker-friendly skulls. We also like his paintings on cello-shaped pieces of wood.

Also look up Tara McPherson with her cutesy, Pop Art graphics – she recently created a poster for singer Beck’s Amsterdam performance.

WGSN’s Womenswear associate editor, Jude Weaver, highlights Melancholy Kitties dolls and clothing collections as disturbingly cool inspiration with their punk rock, elegant gothic Lolita and anime influences. We love the magical, yet slightly sinister, personalities given to the dolls.

Jude also recommends a sneak peak at lifestyle label Bert Industries’ collaboration with fashion photographer Christopher Sims, entitled Evil Children. The artist Bert has a liking for the macabre and pays tribute to films such as Children of the Corn, Village of the Damned and “anything that goes bump in the night”.

“I particularly loved the macabre innocents; each illustration had its own cutely disturbed narrative. The artist herself is a caricature of her work, cutely deranged but fabulously zeitgeist,” says Jude of the images, which are a prelude to an illustrated storybook.

WGSN comment

  • These are images of nightmares and dreams, leaving viewers feeling uneasy and queasy.
  • This trend is particularly relevant for graphics and the youth/junior market. Look to a crossover with painting and computer-generated graphics of the highest calibre.
  • In contrast, be inspired by lowbrow graphics (cartoons, sketches, amateur artists and outsiders). Think of fairy tales gone awry, lost innocence, fantasy and whimsy.
  • The devil’s in detail with this trend too, so look at miniatures and extreme, microscopic detail. For more inspiration, look to the ongoing popularity of burlesque, taxidermy and Victoriana.
  • Finally, fully embrace the dark side with a touch of deviance.

More links
Ray Caesar

Mark Ryden

Joe Sorren

Camille Rose Garcia

Jeremy Fish

Tara McPherson

Melancholy Kitties

Bert Industries

Art Dorks

Juxtapoz magazine


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Ray Caesar, The Prodigal (courtesy of the artist)