Monsters and Death Masks: A Haunting History of Spooky Art

From legitimate crime to haunted houses to the limitless dramatization of serial killers, folks delight in experience frightened (at the very least on their own terms), a creepy fascination that extends to spooky artwork. And with Halloween right all over the corner, the evidence of our collective love for discovering emotional restrictions abounds. Horror film evenings with near mates. The eerie zombie graveyard getting around the neighbor’s lawn. The adrenaline hurry we experience is a little something we’re hardwired to relish and find out.

So how do we outline scary art? Is it an ambiance? An ominous palette? The retelling of a horrifying tale? Do we recoil at the sight of monsters? Or at the reminder of our possess mortality? In a chilling celebration of the period, let us get a appear at spooky art as a result of a historical lens and see how it influences contemporary artists listed here at Artrepreneur.

Horror in Ancient Greece

The historic Greeks used at least a few various words to explain worry, just about every with its individual unique nuance. The term that Aristotle applied most frequently, phoberon, is derived from a root that means to run away, a descriptor that correctly captures our animal brains being coerced into a fight or flight response. A further time period, phrike, usually means tremor or shivering, and it shares the similar stem as the verb to tremble, another great interpretation of the physicality inherent in worry.

These words had been extensively made use of in ancient tragedies, which fed our earliest fascination for all issues blood and gore. From Homer’s terrifying Gorgon, whose facial area was so hideous it turned adult men into stone, to Odysseus’ excursion to Hades and the blood sacrifice of a ram to return house, these stories captured the imagination and had been reflected just about everywhere in the visual landscape. In truth, we can even now look at ceramics, statues, and historical murals retelling these tales, allowing for us a glimpse into what stoked worry in the historical earth.


spooky art
The Gorgons of historical Greece embellished are depicted as architectural motifs as
perfectly as in ceramics and metalwork.

Early Depictions of Loss of life in Christian Catacombs

Our most popular fear is one that is shared virtually universally: the panic of dying. And however it is some thing that, irrespective of status or influence, no a single is able to steer clear of. Possibly it is for this explanation that there is these types of an overlap involving death and aesthetics.

In the fifth century CE, early Roman Christians buried their associates in catacombs adorned with a repertoire of predominantly Biblical imagery. But interestingly, the images chose not to concentration on the decline of the dwelling. In its place, the operate expresses the deep-seated hope that we and our beloved types could a person working day be resurrected. Even past the grave, our anxiety of loss of life designs our cultural ethos and values, a phenomenon that influences most of us, irrespective of our religious affiliations.


Vanitas and Memento Mori

From fantastical monsters to boldly positioned symbols reminding us of our individual mortality, there is no scarcity of spooky art imagery in the classical canon.

“Vanitas” (derived from a passage in the E-book of Ecclesiastes, Vainness of vanities, all is vanity) and “Memento Mori” (which arrives from a Latin phrase that means Remember you need to die) are however lifes precisely focused to reminding us of human frailty and fragility. Equally attractive and macabre, these genres typically contain symbols these as skulls and extinguished candles to tantalize the eye and stir the soul. The major difference concerning the two? Though both equally depend on conventional symbols of demise, vanitas will also contain much more frivolous imagery, this sort of as musical devices or books, to remind us of the self-importance — or worthlessness — of worldly pleasures.

Monsters in Classical Art

How do we define a monster? It’s a enjoyment principle to investigate: monsters exist in historical religions and lore, while authentic live monsters can terrorize a local community and dominate a information cycle.

In Goya’s celebrated Saturn Devouring his Son, we see a father (Saturn) consuming his personal offspring out of anxiety that he may possibly one day be overthrown. In Hieronymus Bosch’s The Back garden of Earthly Delights, we come upon hundreds of extremely hard creatures that alert us of an unlucky afterlife must we be consumed with enthusiasm, enjoyment, and other superficialities. And in Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, we see a vengeful lady decapitating a violent man, a story from the Outdated Testomony that also facilitated the artist’s possess moment of revenge: it is speculated that the male figure is really a portrait of the guy who raped her when she was 17.

Whilst these specific mentions are significantly from exhaustive, they get started to paint a photograph of how people have collectively perceived monsters — and feared them  — throughout record.

The Victorians: The Greatest Masters of Spooky Art

If there was any individual who’s embraced a fascination with loss of life, it was the Victorians. In fact, historians have even coined a certain phrase, “the cult of loss of life,” in get to better characterize the ethos of the time.

Dying photography (which is, in fact, another iteration of memento mori) gained prominence in the mid-nineteenth century when the art variety was starting to be ever more well-liked and reasonably priced. Entire people would pose jointly, which include individuals who experienced a short while ago passed, generating eerie portraits that look to exist in a liminal house. Stranger yet? The lifeless would typically be in sharper concentration, a consequence of the long publicity time that was required to consider a photograph and, of program, their incapability to move.

The Victorians also developed bespoke artworks and ornamental items from locks of hair, arranging them in an elaborate fashion for wall ornamentation and even wearing them in lockets and rings. Likenesses ended up also captured in realistic “death masks” that had been traditionally created with wax.

Whilst spooky for some, it may well be argued that the Victorian preoccupation with loss of life was, in actuality, a healthful way to system and combine the inescapable. From literal “death beds” that aimed to provide comfort and a final checking out spot to functioning with a Spiritualist medium to commune with the useless, loss of life shaped the aesthetics, working day-to-day routines, and cultural dialogue of the time.



Horror in Fashionable Artwork

Our preoccupation with anxiety and horror has not waned over the decades. In simple fact, with the arrival of new systems like pictures, movie, and even online video games, it appears to be we have additional opportunities to induce our dread reaction than ever right before.

This holds real in the classical artwork canon, as properly.

Damien Hirst’s iconic shark, preserved in formaldehyde with jaws agape, issues us to think about death. Even the title, The Physical Impossibility of Demise in the Intellect of Someone Dwelling, speaks to how the collective’s thinking has adjusted since the Victorian period. Even when confronted with a lifeless animal, our dread of death refuses to make it possible for us to accept our personal inevitable destiny.

In his Death and Disasters series, Andy Warhol took inspiration from everyday horrors printed in the area papers. Car or truck crashes, electric powered chairs, and even cans of tuna fish are taken out from their journalistic context and cropped, permitting the artist to discover how visual information and facts can be altered to convey new meanings.

Horror can even live in the intellect of the artist. The infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who also moonlighted as a clown-for-use, produced perform while he was on death row. The deranged paintings are still a very hot ticket product for modern day collectors, in spite of their crude execution.

Spooky Art from Artrepreneur Collections

Is this fast tour as a result of art heritage finding you fired up for further spooky art exploration? You require not appear any even further than Artrepreneur’s archives. In this article are some fantastic places to start.


Spooky Art
Stephan Powys Fowler, Untitled 2022 (2022) is an abstract architectural vision partly motivated by Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl.


Equally majestic and mysteriously foreboding, Stephan Powys Fowler’s digital masterpieces are a interesting specialized interpretation of decay. The artist points out:

My do the job discovers buildings that emerge from non-linearities, ghostly artifacts, and transcendent imagesPixels are equal to brush strokes only when they come to be noticeable I think electronic art is most visceral and prosperous when it escapes superior-res utopia and in its place crumbles ahead of the eyes, exhibiting the brittle components that its sum is bigger than.

It is fascinating to think of decay outside the house of an natural and organic context, and even though quite diverse from the extra standard interpretations we’ve explored, it goes with out stating that Powys Fowler reminds us of our enduring fragility even in an imagined long term.

In a recent job interview with Artrepreneur, Moonbound Studio reveals a world that celebrates the softer side of the mysterious and misunderstood. Magical gals and their spooky pals make up this charming universe, and Leitner’s people always experience actual to me – like they’ve been wandering all-around in my head, and I just require to explore them somewhat than produce them. Enchanted forests, haunted castles, and landscapes loaded with paranormal spirits characterize the artist’s get the job done, shaping a universe that highlights our most historical preoccupations in a entirely new and one of a kind way.

When looking for horror, the all-natural location to start off is in the human psyche. And diving deep into surrealist works reveals a treasure trove of illustrations or photos that can raise existential queries in just all of us. Artist Pony Ma points out:

My artwork tends to build an imaginary earth which has been buried deeply in my thoughts since my childhood. In my work, I deconstruct legendary pop culture people then use my own imagination to recreate an image which signifies my inner globe. Men and women normally question me if there are any stories at the rear of my function and the reply is generally the very same: ‘No.’

There is some thing delightfully nihilistic in the “No” that Ma provides as an respond to about their do the job. What if, at the conclusion of the working day, anything genuinely is meaningless?

It can be argued that human beings are most fearful of what they do not understand and simply cannot management. Is there any area that encapsulates that sense of uncertainty a lot more than when we’re just moments away from slumber? Kathryn Reichert states:

‘Hypnagogia’ refers to that nebulous, albeit short, state of consciousness among asleep and awake. The mere minutes used toeing this threshold are amid the most remarkably elusive and minimum recognized tier of the human working experience- irrespective of the reality that we all share this encounter, typically each working day. In the course of this fragmentation of thought, our minds release from the system that inherently requires rationalization. Absolutely free of this demand, our desires, no matter if narrative or formless, are simply illustrations of our internal truths and vulnerability. Our ideas are exhibited as visible poetry, stunning and relatable in their openness and a beacon of introspection to people who care to delve deeper into interpretation. What is remaining is honesty, unfiltered.

Whilst Reichert’s description is without doubt poetic and wonderful, allowing the truths of our unconscious to arise in a entirely unfiltered way feels unusually risky. What if we expose a monster inside of?

Spooky Art
In manufactured scenes like Octopus (2017), artist Kathryn Reichert generates a distorted perspective on everyday house objects and toys.


It is human mother nature to categorize and conform, so what comes about when have been confronted with a radical shift in the notion of the self? By deformation, concealment, and the use of expressive strokes, Filip Gyurkovsky makes an attempt to allow the essence of the not known and the mysterious emanate from his portraits. Flesh falls absent, and the familiar becomes distorted, developing haunting portraits that linger lengthy immediately after the viewer has turned their head.

From monsters in antiquity to grizzly displays of revenge in Renaissance art, we have generally looked in direction of the macabre for thrills and inspiration. And when it appears strange that we might consciously seek out the awkward, it is, eerily, a universal phenomenon. Possibly it is the strike of adrenaline we experience demanding boundaries when our environments are finally secure and managed. Or possibly it feels subversive and fascinating to gravitate to what was normally conditioned to operate from in panic. No issue the purpose, a person issue is apparent: be they ghosts from the previous or haunting visions of the long run, spooky artwork is below to continue to be.

What imagery helps make your skin crawl? What triggers deep-seated fears? And do you take pleasure in challenging your senses? Let us know in the responses!

Mildred K. Pearson

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