Darkness, they say, is a boon. Artists create the concept of Avant-Garde, grandeur, and layered perceptions in darkness as much as light, a play of colours exchanging scenes between sets. The dark inspires creators to surge within, into a search for the deepest avenues of the self. Secrets, pretentious norms, quirks, nightmares, and most certainly, embellished certainties find themselves dipped in paint, unnerved in brush strokes, and instituted in figures of the artist’s making. It is with this predicament we explore the varying facets of the dark, and specific to that, horror in art.
Throughout history, motifs of evil and the wretched have been used to make commentaries on underlying issues in culture, governments, society, and even religion.
In 1781, the profound Henri Fuseli painted, ‘The Nightmare’ inspired by a demonic phase in his town where he made into the subjects of his paintings, people who reported sinister events produced in their sleep, and even when they claimed they were wide awake and conscious. Medical professionals documented such claims in studies and patterns, as did artist Fuseli on his canvases. With a deep-hued background, he portrayed a woman hanging off the edge of her bed with horrid characters staring at her and into thin air, laser beams shooting out their eyes, and their mouths convulsed to depict the sight of sheer malevolence. Similarly, in 1823, Francisco Goya created, ‘Saturn Devouring His Son.’ In this painting, he described the old Greek legend of Saturn who devoured his son to prevent him from toppling his throne and usurping power. A direct shift from his artworks based on Romanticism, Goya’s painting received exuberance in terms of attention, but also, controversies.
Henri Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781, Photo from Khan Academy, Oil on Canvas
Another known example is ‘The Library’ by Félicien Rops. Made in 1881, it drew motivation from fiction. A woman lay fast asleep in a library, and floating overhead was a vampire with a book in his hand. Painted in a monotone of a discoloured blue effect, this painting moved to illustrate the subconscious rise of the character from the novel the girl was seen reading. As she fell to sleep inside, the demon hovered around her as a suppressed memory of related folk tales of her childhood. It is a true marvel of the examination of genre-bending and genre mixing in art. And as times grapple with new ways of artistic representation, horror elements have become rarely used, but the scenes of the dark still exist in art pieces.
Vikash Kalra, Black Series, 20*25 inch, 2022, Acrylic
Within Easel Stories, artists are known to use darkness as a way to present weather conditions directly symbolising moods. Artist Arpan Bhowmik often creates dark shadows in acrylic, mixing the right amount of water to give a watercolour effect to represent rainy evenings turning into menacing night scenes at old train stations. Also known to have mastered the art of modernism and surrealist expression, artist Vikash Kalra’s black-canvas series embody the show of evil characters with a hazy vision.
A deep black background reflects the moving colours of only the outline of figures’ faces, giving it an eery yet classic modern touch. Easel artist Kanhaiya Kumar, though works around innocent fable-like patterns and Eden Garden structures with orange orchards and biblical hares, his art has an undertone of horror like the calm before the eruption of storms. Gavalav, as a painter of modern techniques and distortion, has created figures that depict horrid explanations of the story hidden within. And master artist A. Viswam’s abstract works keep indulging in the use of dark shades, his newest series suggesting the same with tones of grey, black, and deep-sea blues with a hint of pink. When it comes to art, the most sought-after paintings are those that either aggrandise avenues or tell a story that is felt at the core. That is the reason numerous paintings with horror scenes are the main property to elevate a horror film or fiction. With the complication and sullen impact of these paintings with darkness, artists hint at one of the most common human tendencies: curiosity. Followed by historical depictions, beauty in horror, contemporary fears, and commentaries, the art works as a boon for both the artist and the admirer waiting to delve into the world inside the painting with only one eye open.
Arpan Bhowmik, Night in the City, 2021, 30*40 inches, Acrylic