BOOK REVIEW: The Madman’s Gallery by Edward Brooke-Hitching

The Madman's GalleryThe Madman’s Gallery by Edward Brooke-Hitching
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: March 7, 2023 [Some editions may be out in your area]

The Madman’s Gallery presents a selection of bizarre, curious, macabre, grotesque, surreal, and psychedelic artworks with essays offering insight into the background of each painting or sculpture, including information on influences and what is known about what motivated these atypical acts of creativity. Not all of the artworks are the product of mental illness – though some are and when something is known about the artist’s mental state it’s mentioned. They are all just, in some way, preternaturally creative or unconventional.

I was pleased that the book exposed me to a new selection of art. There were only a few pieces with which (as a neophyte) I was familiar. These included: Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait,” Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Fuseli’s “The Nightmare,” Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” the Olmec heads, and Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.” There were other well-known paintings that were referenced because they were influenced by or had something in common with the artwork under discussion.

The book disabused me of the notion that the latter half of the twentieth century art was the golden age of freakish art (though that era is well represented with discussions of Dada, Surrealism, performance art, etc.) It’s interesting to learn how much wild and weird art was being producing in previous centuries, given how little of it made it through the filter of history to a general audience.

There are many recurring themes throughout the book: death, blasphemy, fertility, demons, etc. But the latter portion of the book features some new sources of bizarre art, including hoaxes, forgeries, and AI art.

If you’re interested in art history, and particularly the weird side of the subject, I’d highly recommend you read this book.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Darkness by S. Elizabeth

The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and MacabreThe Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre by S. Elizabeth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Release: September 6, 2022

As the title suggests, this book collects a diverse group of artworks that share the common theme of the macabre. While most of these works are paintings, a few photos and sculptures are included. It’s also predominantly Western (European and North American) art, but some exceptions exist, notably several Japanese works are included. Where the collection really shows its breadth is in the styles of art and eras included. The works range from more than half-a-millennium old to some produced within the last couple years, with the expected variations in styles and media, given the centuries covered. The collection is also varied with respect to the popularity of the pieces and artists. You’ll likely see some familiar works (e.g. Fuseli’s “The Nightmare,” Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” and Dalí’s “The Face of War.”) However, most of the works were new to me. (Granted, I’m a visual arts neophyte.)

The pieces are arranged into four topical divisions, each containing three chapters. The subjects include realist content such as: bodily ailments, crime, dark takes on nature, and architectural ruins. However, much of the book delves into surreal and supernatural subject matter, including: nightmares, hallucinations, gods, monsters, ghosts, and magic.

The book lets the art do the heavy lifting, but it does have brief chapter introductions and captions for each piece that includes not only the title, artist, and (if known) the year the art was released, but also some interesting tidbits about artwork and / or artist. These write ups are concise, intriguing, and well-written, and offer some fascinating insights. The book also presents numerous quotes from poets, artists, and other intellectuals.

I learned a great deal from reading this book and discovered some new favorite artworks, art that is beautiful or grotesque but often a combination of both — but always evocative. If you’re interested in how artists depict the darkness in the lives and souls of humanity, you should definitely give this book a looksie.


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