Being something of an aficionado of the macabre, I jumped at the chance to visit Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination at the British Museum. This fantastic show examines the origins of Gothic and its evolution and unwavering influence throughout the centuries.
Gothic is a fascinating subject to me. From its origins in The Castle of Otranto, the 1764 novel by Horace Walpole, themes of death, suspense and superstition, along with motifs such as sublime landscapes, ruins and castles feature heavily in Gothic literature throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
In Victorian times Gothic evolved into something closer to what we'd associate with the style today, with the dark underworld of London providing the backdrop for many a grisly tale. There was also a shift to a new psychological and bodily horror, from the creepy, tension led scenes of previous centuries.
Penny Dreadfuls were instrumental in bringing Gothic to the wider audience of the working classes, and with them introduced characters such as Sweeney Todd and Spring Heeled Jack, who in turn was the inspiration for Batman - the most Gothic of superheroes. Many significant Gothic authors, such as Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe, also came to prominence during this period.
Moving into the 20th century, Gothic's reach has become broader than ever, with cinema, TV and music all embracing the movement, along with its ever-present influence within literature and visual arts. The ongoing success of cultural events such as Whitby Goth Weekend (now in its 30th year!) further reinforce Gothic's place in popular and artistic culture, and I for one wouldn't have it any other way.
With a broad range of artefacts and pieces on display from notable artists such as The Chapman Brothers, writers Mary Shelley and Oscar Wilde, designer Alexander McQueen and photographer Martin Parr, there are caskets of inspiration to be found at Terror and Wonder. Here's what our illustrators took away from the show...
I was excited about going to Terror and Wonder at the British Library. Having visions of some sort of House of Horrors and gallery hybrid, there were actually a lot less scares involved than I first thought - except the looped scream from the Bride of Frankenstein movie clip, making sure you don't forget what this exhibition is truly about.
The main pieces of the exhibition that stood out to me were the illustrations and paintings. A number of them had such presence, impact and detail that it was easy for me to get lost in looking at each little aspect of them. I made sure I didn't get too close to them though, knowing my luck, being clumsy as hell I'd end up knocking a priceless piece of art off the wall...
Walking further around the exhibition I took a lot more interest in the drawings and the storyboard art on show, more so than the manuscripts. But it wasn't until I walked round a corner to be greeted by a suspended horned mannequin, dressed in Alexander McQueen that my heart started to race! I'm 6'4", so it's not often things that I get the opportunity to crank my neck upwards, but that singular piece looming over me made me stop, slightly awe struck, and I knew that this something I had to showcase in my illustration.
After I'd finished in the exhibition I had a little coffee and sit down to sketch a few ideas out. The two main aspects in my head were of course the McQueen, but also clouds. I feel a bit guilty that all these painters spent days or weeks on their landscape paintings and the main thing that stuck with me was the way they painted clouds and the sky, so thought I should incorporate that into my image as well. Being a Gothic inspired piece a lot of black was an obvious decision, texture as well seemed to play a big part. My subject is basically sewing together her perfect man with different body parts, whilst looking pretty damn good in her Alexander McQueen - think fashion Frankenstein!
My favourite pieces from the exhibition were the ones that made me smile: The vampire slaying kit is exhibited in a way that makes it looks as precious as the Mona Lisa. The short scene of the movie "Frankenstein" is supposed to be scary, but was somehow felt absurd and funny, and I enjoyed the Martin Parr's photographs of goths in normal situations…
Gothic fills our imagination with darkness and shock with the macabre, however with these illustrations, I wanted to show an irreverent and playful side of the subject. I explored some themes that relate to gothic but also relate to our existence: youth, lust, death and immortality.
What if the myth of Dracula that inspired so many of us actually existed?
And because it's Halloween tomorrow (get ready for it, we're never too old to celebrate Halloween), it's time to bring some gothic experience in our daily life with fantasy and fun.
Thanks so much to Scott and Yoyo for sharing their inspirations, and it's a complete pleasure to be able to share their new work with you. Also massive thanks to the British Library for hooking up with tickets to the show. Terror and Wonder is on until January and well worth a visit, so check out their site for details.