Monday, February 27, 2012

Gothic heroines in distress

One of the categories I've started on my Pinterest page is Gothic Romance Book Covers -- I've started just by scanning the ones that I have acquired myself, but these things are hard to come by, as every used book store I've visited in several time zones has said "No, we just don't have much call for those." I can't believe this incredible category of vintage novel has completely vanished from second-hand stores, except for the odd lot on eBay now and then.

I haven't even read any of the ones I've acquired yet (my tastes run more to the 19th century anyway, and these are more recent tales) but I actually like the sound of them and enjoy a good pulp novel, so I suspect I eventually will read at least some of them, for they seem steeped in Dark Shadowsy atmosphere of mystery, family secrets and hidden rooms. Although marketed as "romances" they have all of the key elements that I look for in my old-fashioned tales of terror.

Even before reading them, these covers have started to form some of the inspiration for a series of paintings I've been doing over the past year and change. I just love the image of ladies escaping from castles in nightgowns by moonlight. Sometimes it's a mansion, sometimes a castle, a burning tower, a mill, or a country cottage even. They are invariably wearing a long gown though and it is always night.

"The Peril of the Crimson Manor" was the first deliberate attempt I made to come up with a title for a gothic romance paperback that might or might not actually exist, and then design a cover showing a woman fleeing in the night from a building with mysteries lights in the windows. I think it's important that the protagonist have a light source like a torch, candle or lantern, whenever possible, or an artifact of some sort like an amulet. She has both!

"Terror on the Cliff" was the second painting, and although it can be difficult to capture the colors when there is a lot of white and pale grey in a painting, given my limited photographic experience, I think she scanned pretty well. Everyone needs a mist-shrouded cliff to loom over, right?

"Trouble at the Mill" sold in 2010 right after I listed it - I loved the image of a mill and the intimations of what horrors might lurk in the chamber of the mill stone. I guess movies like "The Mill of the Stone Women" (1963) must be an influence as well. There is something sinister about these structures which now mainly exist in ruins. (though there was one in New Jersey that housed a great German restaurant, for years, that I worked nearby for awhile...).


"Terror in the Crimson Castle" is a classic image from gothic horror, of course -- every single 1960s-ish film I watch seems to have a scene like this, though they are usually in black and white. I can't watch a movie without a candelabra, a diaphanous gown and a staircase (preferably spiral). Well, I can, but I always wind up back in the castle. And yes I used the word "crimson" in two of my five paintings here, but can you blame me?

"The Moonstone (I)" is thus titled because I intend to do several illustrations for some of my favorite books, such as -- well, The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins. I have a bunch of J. Sheridan Le Fanu ideas as well. But I will get back to those, as I have a pile of other things to finish...

"Escape to Subterranean Horrors" is my newest painting in this line of inspiration -- after reading even more ghost stories (thank you, Ash Tree Press, for your affordable line of ebooks!), and watching even more gothic horror films (thank you, Mario Bava) I can't seem to get away from candelabras!

At any rate I'll continue with these for as long as I can think up variations on the theme. Since the contemporary idea of horror bears no resemblance to mine, with a few exceptions, I will just have to keep creating my own haunted atmosphere.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The haunted hands of Countess Regenbogen

It is a fairly well-known fact that I am rather fond of 1960s/1970s psychedelic horror movies. They don't have to be in color, but I like color a lot. And by "psychedelic" I really just mean weird and visually interesting. And mostly from Europe. And I love the movie posters, even if they have little or nothing to do with the movie. I just like how visually free and experimental they were -- the colors, the composition, the typefaces, all bear signature flourishes, with a little Art Nouveau, a little surrealism, some decadence, and a splash of je ne sais quoi. There's also a bit of garish comic book art and a good dose of pulp magazine or book cover.

I have always had a secret longing to do pulp book or magazine covers, but my style is a bit I try to translate these things through my own little filter, and that's what I did with the painting above, ridiculously named for an imaginary pulp short story or low-budget film.

Some of my inspirations from the world of film are Jean Rollin, Czech fantasy films and Coffin Joe, which I'll show you below. I'm not exactly trying to recreate the movie poster aesthetic but I want to use similar elements, motifs and color schemes.

I've talked about Jean Rollin before, and he pretty much is what I have in mind when I throw around phrases like "psychedelic horror." People in masks, strange lighting, vampires walking out of clocks and fireplaces (Shiver of the Vampires), prog rock soundtracks to romps through night-lit graveyards, and wild costumes and colors. And candelabras, lots of candelabras.

This isn't a movie poster, above, but Coffin Joe (Zé do Caixão,) of Brazil also uses some wild and crazy visuals, most of which (like Rollin) aren't exactly safe for work. But the color scheme in this little graphic, and the hands, are the kind of thing that I had in the back of my mind with my little painting.

And perhaps most of all, one of the most perfect movies for my aesthetic, more of a surrealist fantasy film than a horror film, is Valerie and her Week of Wonders, or Valerie a týden divů, by Jaromil Jireš. This poster image, with that shade of green and the menacing, ominous figure in black, is something that creeps through whenever I think about painting a fantasy-horror image with a feeling of psychedelic menace. Which is something I think about a lot, believe me.

My favorite elements in film which have a tendency to also show up in paintings, are probably:

Contrasts of very colorful images against a very dark or bleak setting (a psychedelic gown in a dark castle).

Candles, candelabras, torches and lanterns.

Staircases, particularly circular ones.

Masks or painted faces.

Garish spot lighting in shades of red, green or sometimes blue and gold (Dario Argento, Mario Bava, et. al. do this very well)

Lushly decorated interiors infused with decay and decadence -- brocade wallpapers in dark green, red or purple; statuary, suits of armor, mirrors, gauzy draperies, etc.

Flowing diaphanous gowns, either in white or pale colors; also gauzy black drapings or robes.

Jean Rollin hits all of these notes, as do movies like "The Girl Slaves of Morgana le Fay" and many others. For black and white movies, the Italian gothics pretty much are what it's all about for me.

And then of course there are giallos but I'll save that for another day!

Incidentally if anyone reading this is on Pinterest I'm trying to start compiling some albums of interesting images there, including a board for my own paintings. Please feel free to follow and I'll do the same for you:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Halloween Artist Bazaar

I was recently invited to join the Halloween Artist Bazaar on Etsy, a new group devoted to all things Halloween. I love Etsy teams, and I am happy to be a part of several on there -- including the EtsyDarkTeam, TeamBPAL, and the VAST group (Visual Artists Street Team).

This new Halloween group was started by TwilightFaerie on Etsy, who has many vintage Halloween inspired items in her shop like this one:

Other members so far include:

Sauvage Raven Creations, which offers many altered art items, one-of-a-kind items with a gothic theme, including Halloween, Poe, and Dark Shadows:

And Evil Lily Originals, featuring many hand sewn items with skulls, bats and other trappings of the gothic Halloween aesthetic.:

Halloween art has been one of my main interests since I started painting -- the first paintings I did specifically to sell on eBay back around 2000 were all inspired by my love of vintage Halloween art, and before then I had been mostly painting fantasy and gothic imagery, and surreal or colorful abstract psychedelic paintings (from 1986 to 2000) in various forms. I have a pretty wide variety of art in my shop now, but there's still a high Halloween content -- and if you include anything gothic or ghost related in that, it's a whole lot more.

I know it's February, and we're just past Valentine's Day, but this is about the time of year that I started really actively selling Halloween art online about a dozen years ago, so it seems like a good time to start celebrating again this year! Here's one of my originals that I have tagged to be part of HAB:

And here is a print:

As this group grows you can just type "HAB" in a search field at Etsy to see a variety of works by the people in the group.