Although his 30 surviving works have been popular for centuries, not much is known about 13th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. He painted religious tableaus of fantastical and grotesque works, hallucinogenic, feverish, so packed with detail that your eyes can scan and scan and keep finding surprises.
His “Garden of Earthly Delights” looks like a morality-free orgy on a planet where humans, mutants, animals and plants interact in intimate and animated ways. But it’s his darker, macabre stuff that has the most relevance this Halloween – the kind of disturbing melees of sin, hellfire, pain and woe that looks leery enough from a distance, but when you look close it makes you mutter, “Holy s***.” You wouldn’t want to live in the guy’s head for too long.
But Carmel Visual Arts asked a bunch of photographers to do just that.
They’ve created a group photography show called Grotteschi: Exploring Hieronymus Bosch, 25 photographers from as far away as Vienna and Rhode Island to as close as our home here on the Peninsula. (“Grotteschi” is a style of art that derived from early European cave drawings.)
They turned in their own take on Bosch’s theater of the macabre based on the assignment sent out by gallery co-founder and photography director Carol Henry.
“It was loosely defined as exploring Hieronymus Bosch,” she says. “I sent out a prompt that included things like nature, figurative, relationships between those two, animalia, inquisitive exploration, spirituality. It was open to the photographer to explore the concepts. It didn’t have anything to do with depicting the Middle Ages, but a lot of it has the same connotations today: life, death, struggle, fear, nature, sex and seduction. Those are timely to everyone now.”
So is Bosch’s art. In an article in The Atlantic titled “Hieronymus Bosch, the trendiest apocalyptic medieval painter of 2014,” Tim Wainwright cites director Guillermo Del Toro and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold as fans. How far that trend can run depends on people’s tolerance for the grotesque imagination of the man nearly forgotten in the legacy of his paintings.