“There is no beauty without some strangeness”—Edgar Allan Poe
The term “Gothic”, first used in art to describe medieval architecture, sculpture, and painting—concerned primarily with light and darkness—later came to define the romantic and fantastical themes penned by novelists Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and Emily Bronte, and poet Edgar Allan Poe. These 19th-century visionaries wrote foreboding tales of humanity versus nature and horror stories of science run wild, conjuring psychological landscapes replete with doomed damsels and characters in the throes of madness or metamorphosis. A tendency toward these themes and narratives can also be found in Contemporary Gothic art, as in the paintings of Donato Giancola, Steven Kenny, Rick Garland, and John Jude Palencar.
Donato Giancola paints archetypal, mythic, or historical figures and otherworldly creatures in a meticulous, classical style, amid dramatic scenery and lighting. Narrative yet ambiguous, his compositions often feature romanticized landscapes and atmospheric qualities that portend doom. In Progeny, a heroic figure appears to rescue a mermaid from a ferocious sea, while the awesome whale rendered in Leviathan recalls what some consider to be the preeminent American Gothic novel, Moby Dick.
Steven Kenny’s mysterious, dreamlike compositions present figures immersed in the natural world and suspended in states of hybridity, neither human nor animal. Inspired by the Baroque works of the Italian, Dutch, and Flemish schools, Kenny portrays his subjects in theatrical lighting and balanced compositions. In The Decoy, he depicts the nude torso of a woman standing with her eyes closed against an evocative sky; the presence of two birds in the image—one real, and one paper—suggests the subject’s interior landscape.
Rick Garland’s hyperrealistic paintings of derelict, debris-strewn warehouses with shafts of natural light entering through windows and crevices, recall Gothic cathedrals, where light takes on symbolic resonance. Regarding Past Reflections, which portrays an abandoned train warehouse in London, he has said, “I aimed to convey the stillness and silence and the distant memories of its former life.”
In John Jude Palencar’s darkly surrealist paintings, solitary figures appear to be sleeping in imaginary environments and landscapes, or in otherwise compromised positions, suggesting dream states and the unconscious. Palencar, whose work has graced the covers of horror and science fiction novels by Stephen King and J.R.R. Tolkien, punctuates his compositions with symbolic objects and memento mori. “I think that mystery in the work is of the utmost importance,” he has said.