Monsters and Death Masks: A Haunting History of Spooky Art

Monsters and Death Masks: A Haunting History of Spooky Art

From accurate crime to haunted properties to the endless dramatization of serial killers, people today enjoy emotion fearful (at minimum on their have conditions), a creepy fascination that extends to spooky artwork. And with Halloween appropriate about the corner, the proof of our collective love for checking out emotional boundaries abounds. Horror motion picture nights with close close friends. The eerie zombie graveyard taking above the neighbor’s garden. The adrenaline hurry we experience is anything we’re hardwired to relish and request out.

So how do we define frightening 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 very own mortality? In a chilling celebration of the season, let’s choose a search at spooky artwork by a historical lens and see how it influences up to date artists here at Artrepreneur.

Horror in Ancient Greece

The historic Greeks used at least a few unique phrases to explain anxiety, every single with its own unique nuance. The term that Aristotle used most usually, phoberon, is derived from a root that usually means to operate away, a descriptor that perfectly captures our animal brains staying coerced into a fight or flight response. An additional phrase, phrike, signifies tremor or shivering, and it shares the similar stem as the verb to tremble, one more ideal interpretation of the physicality inherent in concern.

These terms have been extensively utilized in historical tragedies, which fed our earliest fascination for all issues blood and gore. From Homer’s terrifying Gorgon, whose confront was so hideous it turned gentlemen into stone, to Odysseus’ excursion to Hades and the blood sacrifice of a ram to return property, these tales captured the creativity and were reflected almost everywhere in the visual landscape. In point, we can still see ceramics, statues, and historical murals retelling these tales, permitting us a glimpse into what stoked anxiety in the historic globe.


spooky art
The Gorgons of ancient Greece decorated are depicted as architectural motifs as
effectively as in ceramics and metalwork.

Early Depictions of Dying in Christian Catacombs

Our most common anxiety is one particular that is shared pretty much universally: the fear of dying. And but it is anything that, no matter of status or affect, no a person is equipped to stay away from. Potentially it is for this rationale that there is these kinds of an overlap concerning demise and aesthetics.

In the fifth century CE, early Roman Christians buried their members in catacombs decorated with a repertoire of predominantly Biblical imagery. But apparently, the pictures chose not to target on the reduction of the dwelling. In its place, the perform expresses the deep-seated hope that we and our beloved kinds may perhaps just one working day be resurrected. Even outside of the grave, our fear of death styles 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 possess mortality, there is no shortage of spooky artwork imagery in the classical canon.

“Vanitas” (derived from a passage in the Ebook of Ecclesiastes, Vainness of vanities, all is self-importance) and “Memento Mori” (which will come from a Latin phrase which means Keep in mind you need to die) are even now lifes precisely devoted to reminding us of human frailty and fragility. Both equally stunning and macabre, these genres normally consist of symbols this kind of as skulls and extinguished candles to tantalize the eye and stir the soul. The main big difference between the two? Whilst both of those count on regular symbols of dying, vanitas will also include things like far more frivolous imagery, these types 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 determine a monster? It is a enjoyable strategy to examine: monsters exist in historic religions and lore, although actual dwell monsters can terrorize a group and dominate a information cycle.

In Goya’s celebrated Saturn Devouring his Son, we see a father (Saturn) consuming his have offspring out of dread that he may 1 working day be overthrown. In Hieronymus Bosch’s The Backyard garden of Earthly Delights, we experience hundreds of impossible creatures that warn us of an regrettable afterlife should we be eaten with enthusiasm, satisfaction, and other superficialities. And in Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, we see a vengeful woman decapitating a violent person, a tale from the Old Testomony that also facilitated the artist’s own moment of revenge: it is speculated that the male determine is actually a portrait of the male who raped her when she was 17.

Though these precise mentions are much from exhaustive, they get started to paint a photo of how individuals have collectively perceived monsters — and feared them  — through background.

The Victorians: The Ultimate Masters of Spooky Artwork

If there was anyone who’s embraced a fascination with death, it was the Victorians. In simple fact, historians have even coined a certain term, “the cult of dying,” in get to improved characterize the ethos of the time.

Loss of life pictures (which is, in simple fact, one more iteration of memento mori) acquired prominence in the mid-nineteenth century when the art variety was getting to be ever more popular and inexpensive. Entire households would pose jointly, together with those people who had a short while ago handed, generating eerie portraits that seem to be to exist in a liminal place. Stranger nonetheless? The useless would generally be in sharper focus, a outcome of the long publicity time that was necessary to acquire a photograph and, of study course, their incapability to transfer.

The Victorians also designed bespoke artworks and decorative merchandise from locks of hair, arranging them in an elaborate fashion for wall ornamentation and even carrying them in lockets and rings. Likenesses had been also captured in real looking “death masks” that were historically established with wax.

Although spooky for some, it may be argued that the Victorian preoccupation with dying was, in actuality, a balanced way to system and integrate the unavoidable. From literal “death beds” that aimed to offer comfort and ease and a closing going to position to operating with a Spiritualist medium to commune with the dead, dying shaped the aesthetics, day-to-day actions, and cultural dialogue of the time.



Horror in Present day Art

Our preoccupation with worry and horror has not waned above the yrs. In reality, with the advent of new technologies like images, movie, and even movie online games, it appears we have a lot more prospects to trigger our worry response than at any time in advance of.

This retains genuine in the classical artwork canon, as well.

Damien Hirst’s iconic shark, preserved in formaldehyde with jaws agape, worries us to take into consideration loss of life. Even the title, The Bodily Impossibility of Demise in the Mind of Somebody Residing, speaks to how the collective’s thinking has transformed since the Victorian era. Even when faced with a dead animal, our worry of loss of life refuses to allow for us to acknowledge our individual inescapable destiny.

In his Demise and Disasters series, Andy Warhol took inspiration from each day horrors printed in the nearby papers. Automobile crashes, electrical chairs, and even cans of tuna fish are taken out from their journalistic context and cropped, permitting the artist to check out how visual info can be altered to convey new meanings.

Horror can even are living in the mind of the artist. The infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who also moonlighted as a clown-for-retain the services of, designed function even though he was on death row. The deranged paintings are nonetheless a warm ticket product for contemporary collectors, even with their crude execution.

Spooky Art from Artrepreneur Collections

Is this brief tour via art background having you enthusiastic for added spooky art exploration? You require not glimpse any more than Artrepreneur’s archives. In this article are some terrific locations to start out.


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


Both of those majestic and mysteriously foreboding, Stephan Powys Fowler’s digital masterpieces are a intriguing technological interpretation of decay. The artist describes:

My perform discovers constructions that arise from non-linearities, ghostly artifacts, and transcendent imagesPixels are equal to brush strokes only when they turn into visible I believe that digital art is most visceral and productive when it escapes higher-res utopia and instead crumbles in advance of the eyes, demonstrating the brittle components that its sum is better than.

It is intriguing to consider of decay outside the house of an natural context, and whilst extremely different from the much more traditional interpretations we’ve explored, it goes without the need of indicating that Powys Fowler reminds us of our enduring fragility even in an imagined foreseeable future.

In a the latest interview with Artrepreneur, Moonbound Studio reveals a earth that celebrates the softer aspect of the mysterious and misunderstood. Magical gals and their spooky pals make up this charming universe, and Leitner’s figures generally experience actual to me – like they’ve been wandering all around in my head, and I just have to have to uncover them somewhat than create them. Enchanted forests, haunted castles, and landscapes stuffed with paranormal spirits characterize the artist’s function, shaping a universe that highlights our most historic preoccupations in a totally new and exclusive way.

When browsing for horror, the purely natural spot to start out is in the human psyche. And diving deep into surrealist operates reveals a treasure trove of images that can elevate existential issues within all of us. Artist Pony Ma describes:

My artwork tends to make an imaginary globe which has been buried deeply in my head considering that my childhood. In my function, I deconstruct legendary pop culture people then use my possess creativeness to recreate an impression which signifies my internal environment. People today generally question me if there are any tales guiding my perform and the response is always the identical: ‘No.’

There is a thing delightfully nihilistic in the “No” that Ma delivers as an solution about their do the job. What if, at the conclusion of the working day, anything really is meaningless?

It can be argued that people are most fearful of what they do not understand and can’t control. Is there any area that encapsulates that feeling of uncertainty extra than when we’re just times absent from slumber? Kathryn Reichert states:

‘Hypnagogia’ refers to that nebulous, albeit short, condition of consciousness concerning asleep and awake. The mere minutes put in toeing this threshold are among the the most remarkably elusive and least understood tier of the human experience- despite the truth that we all share this experience, usually every working day. In the course of this fragmentation of assumed, our minds launch from the system that inherently calls for rationalization. Free of this need, our desires, regardless of whether narrative or formless, are merely illustrations of our inner truths and vulnerability. Our ideas are shown as visual poetry, gorgeous and relatable in their openness and a beacon of introspection to all those who treatment to delve further into interpretation. What is remaining is honesty, unfiltered.

Though Reichert’s description is unquestionably poetic and stunning, enabling the truths of our unconscious to arise in a completely unfiltered way feels surprisingly dangerous. What if we expose a monster in?

Spooky Art
In manufactured scenes like Octopus (2017), artist Kathryn Reichert creates a distorted standpoint on every day family objects and toys.


It is human nature to categorize and conform, so what happens when were being confronted with a radical change in the perception of the self? As a result of deformation, concealment, and the use of expressive strokes, Filip Gyurkovsky attempts to permit the essence of the not known and the mysterious emanate from his portraits. Flesh falls away, and the acquainted becomes distorted, making haunting portraits that linger very long after the viewer has turned their head.

From monsters in antiquity to grizzly shows of revenge in Renaissance art, we have always looked in the direction of the macabre for thrills and inspiration. And whilst it would seem odd that we may possibly consciously search for out the awkward, it is, eerily, a common phenomenon. Most likely it’s the strike of adrenaline we practical experience difficult boundaries when our environments are in the end safe and managed. Or it’s possible it feels subversive and exciting to gravitate toward what was otherwise conditioned to operate from in fear. No issue the cause, a person thing is very clear: be they ghosts from the previous or haunting visions of the future, spooky art is listed here to keep.

What imagery tends to make your skin crawl? What triggers deep-seated fears? And do you get pleasure from demanding your senses? Let us know in the remarks!