Sunday Read: The Book of Black

Those longing for a moment on the dark side need look no further--The Book of Black is out next month, bringing together all that is dingy and demonic, and providing some unexpectedly heart warming moments.

Bernard Pierre Wolff, Closer, 1980 photograph from the Joy Division album cover. Art direction by Peter Saville, Factory Records. Photographed at the Staglieno Monumental Cemetery, Italy. Saville’s neo-classical cover now captures the aesthetics of today’s gothic visual expression.

It was a dark and damp Summer night on a South London common when my friends and I became convinced that we had formed a cult. We were five fourteen-year-old girls, carrying a 1972 Parker Brothers Ouija board and filled with a longing to live out The Craft IRL (a nineties movie known well to most schoolgirls of a certain age and, some might say, an undeniable masterpiece). We came upon a tiny frog. Overwhelmed by the excitement of finding a wild frog in the middle of an inner-city patch of grass, we named her Sister and that was that–she was the life force behind the Cult of Oria. (Don’t worry PETA, we let her go five minutes later.)

Dan Hillier, Pachamama, 2014, glicee print. Hillier’s Victorian inspired print became an iconic cover for Royal Blood’s debut album, Warner Music.

“Dowling’s language is theatrically cultish as she leads readers through the ways in which art, music, design and literature have adopted and transformed what it means to be gothic.”

The Book of Black is for those who harbor a yearning, every now and then, to slip over to the dark side. A macabre potion of crucifixes, occultist symbolism, strange magic, skeletal beings and neon lights, the book by Faye Dowling catalogues our cultural obsession with all things dark and delves today’s Gothicism from many angles. Dowling’s language is theatrically cultish as she leads readers through the ways in which art, music, design and literature have adopted and transformed what it means to be gothic, transcending the difficult boundaries between definitions of goth, emo, metal and hard-core. The book is separated into three sections (Gods & Monsters, The Kingdom of Darkness and Dark Arts/Higher Power), breaking works but up by theme rather than genre or material.

Jonathan Meese, KRALLLL die MACHT jeden DR. DR. DR. FREITAG, 2010, oil and mixed media on canvas, 260.3 x 185.8 x 4.5 cm

Its black pages are scattered with some gothic gems: Bernard Pierre Wolff’s neoclassical photograph of the Appiani family tomb in Genoa and the photograph in Peter Saville’s famous cover art of Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ are personal highlights, setting the scene for contemporary photographers who explore the gothic as a theme. Sanna Charles is one of these photographers, particularly standing out for her honest documentary work centred around metal fans–the music, not the material, you understand. Perhaps best known for God Listens to Slayer, a project in which she photographed Slayer fans at gigs across Europe, Charles’s work is a warm and generous look at a subculture that is often parodied.

The Book of Black provides a space in which some great gruesome seminal artworks by established artists such as The Chapman Brothers and Jonathan Meese sit alongside the work of exciting younger artists like the multidisciplinary Bert Gilbert and photographer Grant Willing.

Perhaps it’s not too late for the Cult of Oria’s second coming.

“The Book of Black” is published by Laurence King Publishing in September 2017.

Aline & Jacqueline, Tappia Rick Genest, 2011.
Mat Collishaw, The Garden of Unearthly Delights, 2009, steel, aluminium, plaster, resin, LED lights, motor, 179cm x 200cm x 200cm.