Influence #2: H. P. Lovecraft
My first introduction to the stories of H.P. Lovecraft (1890 - 1937) was not actually through a book solely written by him. My dad had somehow acquired a book called ‘The Lurker at the Threshold’ by August Derleth. (He often came upon fantastic books purely by mistake. For example, he bought ‘The Keep’ by F. Paul Wilson through one of his book clubs. Lucky for me he did, because this is one of my favourite books.) ‘The Lurker at the Threshold’ was written by August Derleth but the ideas had come from notes written by Lovercraft. At the time I thought it was a strange work of horror because it wasn’t chock full of the beheadings and eviscerations that I was used to. This was slow burning psychological horror and, as with most things, it was the atmosphere that gripped me. I embarked on a quest to read proper Lovecraft books and the highlight for me was ‘At the Mountains of Madness’. The isolated Antarctic setting grabbed me from the off but again it was the creeping feeling of dread that kept me reading. The book is a gradual descent into madness. The idea that however bad things are, they can always get worse is something that draws me into any book or film. (This may explain my liking for ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis.) I love the premise of his books that there are ancient creatures, worshipped by certain human cults, that remain generally remain hidden but can occasionally be seen under the right circumstances. Plus they usually bring on severe bouts of madness. Or maybe the people who see them are already mad? The sheer scale of this hidden world fascinates and terrifies me.
Something that always makes me chuckles in his stories is his use of a gibbous moon. It's such a great word. Before reading Lovecraft I didn't have a clue what gibbous meant. Everyone knows what a crescent moon is, but "gibbous"? Now I'm forever commenting on how gibbous the moon is (ranging from slightly to very). In films and art work the gibbous moon doesn't work. It's not visually pleasant. There is something disconcerting about a very gibbous moon. It feels wrong. And maybe that's why Lovecraft used it so often. I think I may have to include a gibbous moon in one of my paintings just to feed my obsession. It’s a shame that he was never recognised in his lifetime and died a poor man. His influence on the horror genre had been massive: The Thing, The Mist, In the Mouth of Madness all owe a great deal to Lovecraft, as do the books ‘Nightworld’ by F. Paul Wilson, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ by Brian Keene and the stunningly great series ‘Locke and Key’ by Joe Hill.
Add to this the various adaptations of his work - some looser than others - and his importance is felt even more strongly. I won’t list them all, just some of my favourites. Dagon has to be my top full length film but the screen version that best captures his work for me is the first part of the Necronomicon anthology, The Drowned by the excellent Christophe Gans. Yet it’s board games that have the strongest Lovecraftian flavour: ‘Arkham Horror’ and it’s update ‘Eldritch Horror’ are both incredibly involving cooperative games and if dice is more your thing then ‘Elder Sign’ should be your next port of call. So what effect has he had on me? Well he’s led me down the route of psychological horror in my paintings. On first viewing they may seem fairly innocuous but hopefully there is something deeply unsettling about them. This effect should be multiplied when I’ve finished the whole of The Seven Gates series. I know that I could paint all of the usual horror trappings like skulls, blood and gore but I want to challenge myself to find something even more horrific. (My favourite film of all time is The Wicker Man after all.) Despite all these lofty ambitions I couldn’t resist having tentacles in my next painting. It’s something I just have to get out of my system. Blame Lovecraft.