Horror and gothic art will never lose it's appeal as long as humanity maintains it's fascination with death. For some artists the macabre provides a release from internalised fear and for others, it's a playful way to seek a reaction from their viewers.
However, managing to capture a truly frightening scene, and present the viewer with a disturbing yet beautiful image is a real skill.
In honour of Halloween we have compiled 17 great contemporary artists who focus on dark fantasy themes, with many revealing why they paint such deadly themes.
01. Keith Thompson
If you haven't heard of Keith Thompson, you have almost certainly been privy to some of his inner artistic workings, bringing to life some of the most revered film director's characters (including Guillermo Del Toro) and injecting his creativity into video games and book projects. A concept artist, creature designer and illustrator, Thompson recently worked on horror flick, The Ritual, to create the movies' "big bad" and Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan book series.
Thompson's work, understandable, focuses on characterisation and that is what makes his art so terrifyingly good. His characters are believable, and could be injected into any good work of horror fiction.
02. Scott M. Fischer
You might recognise Fischer's intricate artwork from his years spent illustrating for Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novels covers, and their various spin-offs. His process is no less than artistic alchemy, each image meticulously layered full of glorious detail and lyrical line work - it's a treat to watch, and he generously allows his fans to witness it through series' of videos posted on his site. Fischer uses a unique variety of techniques, including painting on copper.
Of course, not all of his work is horror, but all maintain a distinctly eerie, yet romantic feel to them - perhaps an unwitting insight into the artist's own delights and his gravitation towards all things fantastical!
03. Wes Benscoter
Benscoter is a master of metal music album artwork. His terrifying visual skills have been enlisted by pretty much every self-respecting death metal band, including Cattle Decapitation, Morticia, Kreator and Autopsy, not to mention thrashers, Slayer and heavy metal masters, Black Sabbath.
It takes a seriously strong stomach to take on the challenge of lending your hand in illustrating merch for such brutal acts, one that many an artist would understandably find a little hard to handle, but Benscoter never fails to deliver - no matter how gruesome and gorey! He'll happily intricately etch a corpse's entrails or set up a more subtly sinister scene.
Pyromallis is the co-founder of Viral Graphics, a music-related artwork collaborative set up back in 2006 with fellow artist and music aficionado, Konstantinos Psichas. Under this name, they have provided some stand out poster art for bands like Soundgarden, the Melvins and Swans.
Pyromallis explains that he is "influenced by the plague of culture, horror films/comics, the metal of death, monsters, the hidden paths of the mind, human stupidity and fear." He practises what he calls "analogue illustration", traditional techniques using ink, brushes and paper. He seeks "to add his own ideas and manifestations into the ever-boiling Cauldron of Depravity", and his illustrations certainly don't stray away from this macabre manifesto.
French illustrator, Olivier, wishes to go deeper into his exploration of the "noosphere" (a philosophical concept about human thought) with his art. Conjuring up the aesthetics of old etchings and religious engravings, occult manuscripts that flirt with alchemy, witchcraft and blasphemy, the artist creates intricate drawings dull of enigmatic detail.
A mix of sensuality, darkness and mythology he strives to create pieces that are disturbing, haunting and stimulating, oozing with mystery and fascination.
06. Anne Stokes
"I am a fan of all things fantasy and much of horror falls into this. It's the dark side of fantasy with many monsters, characters and fantasy situations," reveals illustrator Anne Stokes.
"I love the style of the gothic architecture with its soaring sweeping shapes and detailed carvings. Dark and deathly imagery offer great scope for artists and the possibility of suggesting a sinister story in the picture. I like the possibilities for contrasting softer and darker subjects."
"I have always enjoyed the creativity and look of gothic clothing and enjoyed visiting the Whitby Goth weekends," Stokes continues. "Many people who attend make a great effort to dress up for the occasion which provides an interesting spectacle as the picturesque old town gets taken over by Goths."
07. Aly Fell
"I’m not really a 'horror' artist as such, but the 'Gothic' is a aesthetic that has always resonated with me, from music, fashion, literature and of course visual art. Confronting the shadows is the best way to come to terms with them," says Fell.
"That 'long night' is waiting for us all, pretending it doesn't exist is to kid yourself. My fluffy bunnies have teeth, but 'Death' looks good in a tutu."
08. Michael Whelan
"I just think about things that seem eerie, or recall frightening situations from my own experiences then adapt them to the exigencies of illustration," admits illustrator Michael Whelan.
"I don't go for blood and gore; that's about creating revulsion, not fear. I'm inclined towards establishing a situation that provokes more of a feeling of unease than anything else. It's really very hard to actually create a sense of fear in an image alone.
"We, as viewers, are so accustomed to hearing sound tracks with scary noises and music to trigger a 'fear' mood than to do it with an image alone seems almost impossible in these jaded times."
09. Laurie Lipton
"I do not love horror. I draw about the things that annoy or frighten me," explains artist Laurie Lipton. "When I visited Mexico after my mother died, I realised that I could grab onto my fear of death and feel an illusion of control by drawing about it."
Godmachine is inspired by pop culture visions. "There was this video shop in my village when I was a kid, the only video shop for miles around. It was run by one of my older brothers friends and it was wall to wall awesome video cases of drawn, bad photo manipulations and terrible moustaches (a la Tom Selek)."
"I think without fail that shop defined my outlook on the art I am creating at the moment. I am working towards refining my shit but as a starting point;
"My inspiration came from a video shop in a small village (think Werewolf in London) crossed with the little curiosity shop in Gremlins where he buys the Mogwai and Royston Vasey... these fictional places created a great launching pad for me."
11. Aeron Alfrey
"I enjoy the mystery that a disturbing or frightening image can evoke. I also like the power that a frightening artwork can hold over a viewer," explains Alfrey.
"But I'm also fascinated with the world of monsters that is often found in horrific imagery. Scenes of hell from the likes of Hieronymus Bosch, Cornelis Saftleven, Bruegel to Jacques Callot. I enjoy losing myself in landscapes of fantastical beasts."
12. Steve McGinnis
Steve McGinnis started drawing at an early age. "My aunt, who's a huge horror fan, used to baby sit me and we'd watch all the 70's Hammer films, Jaws, The Universal Monsters, and pretty much anything that would keep me up all night," he reveals.
"It started reflecting in my art at a young age. I have some art I did at 6 featuring Grover vs Jaws. From then on, I was a horror fan. I grew up in the prefect time for horror, I was a kid in the 70's watching Hammer films and in the 80's watching slashers and so on.
"I draw just about everything but when I get to sit down and draw a horror character I really put everything I have into it. I guess you'd say it's my passion."
13. Rovina Cai
Artist Rovina Cai says, "I like the idea of creating something beautiful with just a bit of danger lurking around the edges. It's a challenge to get the right balance between dark and beautiful elements, but when it works, it creates something unexpected that makes the audience want to look closer."
"I created these images for this year's Month of Fear challenge. The first is an illustration of Dorian Gray – it was the perfect opportunity to use animation to create something unexpected.
"The second is an illustration of Frankenstein's Monster – I wanted to depict the monster as a sympathetic character, to make the grotesque beautiful."
14. Dave Kendall
"From a very early age I've been drawn to the gothic and macabre," explains illustrator Dave Kendall. "It started with exposure to the old Universal monster films and carried on with literary forms. Early exposure to Stoker's Dracula and the world of Stephen King cemented that."
"That love has carried over into many on my projects. Foremost among them Houses of the Holy for the Madefire app, and illustrating The Dark Judges for 2000ad's Dreams of Deadworld."
15. Kim Myatt
Artist Kim Myatt says: "Horror is a fascinating subject for me. I like to go beyond the shocking and grisly blood 'n' guts and get into that more subtle terror. The unsettling feeling that follows you home at night. Nothing is scarier than what is already in the viewer's mind and creating truly haunting pieces is a delicate dance of what to show and what not to show.
"Horror is personal, and nothing pleases me more than to hear someone have a genuine reaction to my work. It's like I've tapped into a part of their psyche they keep secret. Something unknown.
"On my own personal note, creating these images helps me understand my own fears and understanding is a method of control. Once you lance a boil it doesn't hurt anymore. That's why I paint what I paint."
16. Martin McKenna
For Martin McKenna, the appeal of horror is simple.
"Drawing these things would be a way of prolonging my sojourns in the shadowy realms of my favourite genre books and movies; to revel in, and attempt to recreate, some of their atmosphere. I like spooky stuff!"
"This illustration shows Akharis the mummy, his half-mask giving me the chance to use a nice shiny golden death mask similar to Tutankhamun's, while still allowing a glimpse of his shrivelled flesh.
"His dessicated face recalling my favourite screen mummy, Karloff's Imhotep from 1932. The sarcophagus in the background pays tribute to the Doctor Who story Pyramids of Mars, itself a gothic horror classic!"
17. Kevin Crossley
"Any horror and darkness which appears in my art is curiously accidental in a way! It was never something I set about trying to achieve during my formative years, but nevertheless it does seem to have crept into much of what I do," admits artist Kevin Crossley.
"I enjoy working with nightmarish concepts, but I never start a piece with such a theme in mind. This might sound strange, but some images just let you know, as you're working on them, that they'll be heading down a 'darker path', and these instances I find are the most rewarding:
"The content evolves on its own terms, often inspired by botanical or skeletal themes mingled with insect anatomy and other natural influences. Out of such a pot all sorts of wonderfully twisted things can arise."
18. Iris Compiet
"I tend to gravitate towards the horror side of things, have always done so," says illustrator Iris Compiet. "Yet I stay away from the obvious blood and gore stuff. Instead I like to seek out the subtle feeling of unease, of despair, of horrific feelings.
"I try to lure people in under the pretence of things being normal and okay and as soon as you take a closer look you'll see something's off. To me horror is more about a feeling, about the little hairs in the back of your neck, about a shiver and shudder.
"The whispers in the dark, the scary tales at night. The folktales, the urban legends. The seemingly normal, the darkness that's in each and everyone of us. There's never black or white, good or bad but both and everything in between."