Art Review: illustro obscurum


First, I’m not qualified to do an art review. Let’s get that right out of the way. I don’t know the lingo, I don’t know the technique, I don’t know how to describe an artist’s form and craft and style using the written word. “Good,” is not going to get us very far in the conversation.

Second, in this art review, I don’t feel comfortable scanning pictures of Michael Bukowski’s collections of illustro obscurum to show you, our faithful readers, because artists don’t generally get paid very much and even though I bought Michael’s books that doesn’t give me the right to spread the images willy-nilly around the Internets. But I will link to his blog, which has several delicious images for your viewing pleasure.

The convention floor of NecronomiCon 2017 was nearly overwhelming. Lots of tables and people stuck out, and I struck up conversations with many folks, but on the far side of the upper floor was a real treat. A group of people, sitting behind a table draped in black, were selling thin volumes of illustro obscurum: bestiaries of weird creatures, aliens, and monsters derived from a host of authors like H. P. Lovecraft (of course), Clark Ashton Smith, Nikolai Gogol, and the anonymous creators of medieval and renaissance maps. The drawings were brilliant. (I told you I wasn’t an art critic.)

Each volume was only a few pages, printed to look like worn and stained manuscript pages with rough tears along the top, bottom, and unbound side. In full color, each depicted a dozen or more monstrosities, full figure illustrations accompanied by the original text that describes each creatures. Talking to the artist, Michael Bukowski, was a real treat, and I likened his work to other artists, compliments which he agreed with and took well. His more human figures, the y’m-bhi, Ashmodai, and Lilith, for example, had exacting detail, done in steady, narrow lines of black ink, that reminded me of Geof Darrow. His non-human creatures–the playful shoggoth, the blocky sentient polyhedron, and the villainous fungus vampire–display a wispy, fluid pencil hand, much like Gahan Wilson’s work. The muted, earthy color palette and simple shading gave each illustration a dimension on the page, a weight that it wouldn’t have were it merely black on white.

And yes, Michael’s interpretation of the various Old Ones and their allies rely on conventional stylings, but here and there a uniqueness bursts forth. His Hound of Tindalos looks nothing like a dog, as is common, but instead like a fanged, thin-limbed, red-shod ulcer, like an open-mouthed hernia on a coil of large intestine on the verge of erupting. You’re not taking this puppy home to mommy! It’s revolting.

I’m sure Michael will happily sell you copies of his fine work on his website. I was thrilled to have meet him and equally thrilled to add these five – yes,  I bought five – volumes to the “inspiration shelf” in my library. Right next to my old Heavy Metal magazines, the old Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella mags, and the bent-eared art books of such luminaries as Wrightson, Jones, Windsor-Smith, and Druillet.

At the writing desk, pictures of monsters make me write stories about monsters, and I like stories about monsters chasing, catching, and eating investigators. I wanted to draw a picture of a gnoph-keh for “Susquehanna Sasquatch” but couldn’t fit it into our production schedule. Looking at Michael’s work makes me want to write a scenario that includes a sea eagle (medieval map monsters) or a chort (a Russian pig-demon). A nice story that includes a brood of Tsathoggua (CAS), because that is downright nasty. Horrific. It has all this dripping fat flab running from its corpulent body . . . well, buy the book and see.

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