The Book of Black explores the enduring power of the gothic in visual culture

Goths were once a rather unfairly maligned subculture, but just as geeks really did inherit the earth, they’re laughing on the other side of their pallid faces since all things goth-leaning appear to have become very trendy indeed.

Tim Etchells, Forever

Whether its the chopped-and-screwed hip hop vibes of the disappointingly short-lived 00s witch house trend, the health goth fad, or more considered nods to the gothic – like art director Hassan Rahim’s work or beautifully crafted magazine for ‘modern witches’, Sabat – black is very much back.

Writer Faye Dowling has always had a keen eye on the enduring power of the darker side of art, and has gathered her explorations of gothic visual culture into a The Book of Black, published by Laurence King.

Sanna Charles, Topless in Leather

As Dowling points out, fine art, street style, and mainstream cinema today are infatuated with the aesthetics and motifs of the gothic. “It’s a personal interest,” she says, “I was picking up on the visual culture of the gothic and saw that emerging distinctly, and wanted to capture it. I was keen to make links between established artists and discover new artists and different media, and in the research I discovered so many new groups of work.

That’s the interesting thing about visual culture – there are so many links between things that come together. I was keen to link it all to the fundamental ideologies that people keep returning to – themes of religion and worship, as well as newer ideas around spirituality and the occult.”

Florian Heinke, Gier ist Macht

As such, the little tome draws together the work of established artists like Mat Colishaw, The Chapman Brothers, Gavin Turk and Douglas Gordon alongside newer work from the likes of Le Gun, Dan Hillier and Sang Bleu. So what is it about gothic references that artists continue to find so inspiring? “People are very attached to those sort of symbols,” says Dowling. “The way gothic subculture has translated to wider visual culture is maybe because it’s about these fundamental elements of humanity and the things we fear.”

Chris Bracey, Angel With Wings

The small format of the book looks to give the naturally rather dark themes it explores a little playfulness. “It’s supposed to be fun as well, so it’s a bit more ziney and editorial,” Dowling explains. The book is split into three sections: Gods & Monsters, The Kingdom of Darkness, and Dark Arts/Higher Power.

Grant Willing, Svart Metall

Certain modern interpretations of the gothic are certainly softened from more macabre connotations around death and the occult, with pretty little Robert Pattinson’s vampires for instance. For Dowling, it’s a sign that counterculture has become mainstream, in some senses. “In a way there’s something significant about the fact that the gothic has merged into a general idea of counterculture addressing ideas of otherness; but then suddenly everyone had crystals on their logos.

“It’s about perspective: yes, for sure, there’s skulls in New Look which is the biggest way of saying something is mainstream. But also for anyone who believes in or is interested in this sort of thing there’s so much more complexity of gothic culture being about life and humanity. There’s the drama of doing something about rebellion, but there’s more to it – that’s why people still feel a connection with it.”

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