Goya's haunting art bypasses Halloween gore
As Halloween approaches it seems everyone looks for original ideas that will scare the living wits out of trick-or-treaters. Some look to vampires or monster movies for inspiration. But the best source may be at museums, in art books or the area'...
As Halloween approaches it seems everyone looks for original ideas that will scare the living wits out of trick-or-treaters. Some look to vampires or monster movies for inspiration. But the best source may be at museums, in art books or the area's oral history.
Fort Seward has tales that, if acted out, would curl your toes. Nearly every library, gallery or museum has something that fits into the theme. But The Metropolitan Museum of Art may well have the best for Halloween inspiration in its collection of work by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. His art screams Halloween fright.
Goya, as a young man, was haunted by war and death. He started out as a cartoon maker (preliminary designs) for Spanish tapestries. He worked for King Charles III and was promoted in 1789 to court painter by Charles IV. His court paintings were vibrant and lively, jolly and lighthearted. But during his later years he dwelled on insanity and death.
He documented the horrors of the Franco-Spanish war. That experience seemed to have changed his focus for the rest of his life. What resulted was indeed a haunted vision. Goya's "Third of May" showed the heartless firing line that took down his countrymen. Paintings and etchings reflected the tortured artist's downward trend.
He painted images about superstition and society's unwritten caste system. Goya's "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" 1799, is probably one etching from his "caprices" series that is best known. It shows a sleeping Goya with the nightmares of his experiences torturing him out of repose. Bats, owls and cats fill the visual space interpreting his nightmare.
Goya's etching, "Hunting for teeth," shows a woman with her hand in the mouth of a hanged man, searching for any gold teeth to steal. Despite the gruesome imagery, he added delicate color-wash to the scene. His "Garrotted Man" shows a prisoner with a metal collar and a screw that would be turned until the artery was severed and the man was dead. It was considered more "gentlemanly" a death than hanging. Again, he added aquatint to the blue ink giving it an "other-worldly" appearance. That alone would be a scream-producing image for Halloween. Ugh.
It would be England's William Blake who juxtaposed Bible stories with a tormented mind. Like Goya earlier, Blake painted a giant. Goya's took the form of a muscle-bound human-like monster, turning his head to the right, looking back on the viewer. Blake's evolved into a giant eating his children and a huge gnat-like creature, either of which would turn the bravest trick or treater into a coward.
Jamestown College's business and art clubs, over the past two decades, did haunted houses where we had traditional "spooky" events and weird night-crawlers. It was the kids who pulled from their art history books the most shocking images for the haunted house. One was a museum where characters from paintings "reached out" to guests. That was fun.
Artists are right-brain dominant. They see things differently, envision non-existent things, and can illustrate that image. That is where modern characters come from. Instead of just depending on a discount store for your expensive costume, select an original work of art. Check the library or internet by artists' name to discover some eerie characters that may top anything available in a retail store. Add makeup, old clothes, dialogue, and greet those little boogers as scary works of art as they beg for treats.
If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.