Dark Surrealism and Other Stuff Paul Booth Likes | Fireside Blog

Dark Surrealism and Other Stuff Paul Booth Likes | Fireside Blog

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dali_editedIn Episode 104, Jake interviewed Paul Booth. You’d be hard pressed to find a tattooer from the last 25 years who did not know Paul’s name. One of the main reasons he gives for this is that he allowed himself to be pigeon holed. In fact, it was a pretty strategic thing that he started doing when he first started walking in the limelight of almost every tattoo publication of the 90s. His style is so uniquely distinguishable that when he decided to enter the world of gallery proprietorship, he naturally gravitated towards what he credits as his own influences. His most mentioned influence being “dark surrealism”.

When I was an art school student in the mid 90’s, Paul was one of the first big name tattooers I was introduced to by my artist friends who were already tattooing. I loved his work immediately, mainly because I could see exactly who his inspiration was in every dark themed black and grey image. So having watched the episode several times already and declared the perfect wholeness of the conversation to Jake, I just thought I’d add a little elaboration on some of the style and artists that Paul mentions in relation to his gallery.

The following is a quick background and look at the artists you should know and ones you might not know, but will probably dig anyway. If you haven’t seen the episode, what are you waiting for?


Throughout the history of modern art, you see a constant evolution from movement to movement. This evolution is made up of each movement responding to or rebelling against the ideals or goals of the previous movement. But for the most part, you have one constant that goes back to the simple execution of the act of painting. Starting around the time of the impressionists, you see things progress into expressionism, to abstract, all the way to abstract expressionist. There is a continuity made of a focus on the process and not subject.

This century long flow of painters is only offset by a tangent of painters who did focus on ideas and subject matter over a focus on the act of painting for the sake of painting. Early on, you have the very political and industrially driven movement of futurism, followed by Dada, which played heavily on taking things out of context to create a more chaotic and nonsensical presentation. But ultimately you end up landing on one of the cornerstones of modern movements, surrealism.


Not many people make it out of a high school art class without a good recognition of Salvador Dali. If you were really diligent, then you probably also recognize the apples and bowler hats of Rene Magritte. Surrealism is made up of a juxtaposition of images in unorthodox illogical combinations to create a dreamlike atmosphere of symbolisms. In short, things are usually rendered in very realistic ways, but are just done in very unreal or dreamlike combinations. Like the movements before it, there was a manifesto that the artists who claimed inclusion in this very tightknit club followed.

Basic surrealism as I mentioned, has a short list of icons that helped define it. Salvador Dali was a surrealist in both life and art. He is known for simply being extreme in his ability to make people uncomfortable. Rene Magritte was also one of the most recognizable painters from this movement. Using images that were so out of context, the viewer was intentionally forced to see things from a symbolic perspective. Not to mention that they were forced to do the one thing that defines art in its highest from; they were forced to think.

Instead of going on a who’s who in hierarchy of the original surrealist movement, I want to point out a lesser known artist, Leonor Fini. Although she never officially joined the surrealist movement, she spent enough time with many of the surrealist big names, that she very much takes on a darker surrealist feel that influences many of her contemporaries. I like to describe her as a subtler combination between Dali and Frida Kahlo. She has that dark dreamy atmosphere that Dali creates, but fills it with a large amount of symbolic self-portraits in the same way as Kahlo.

Dark Surrealism


So that brings us to the darker more contemporary version of surrealism. Booth refers to it as “dark” surrealism, but I’ve also heard it referred to as “nightmare” surrealism. Although, there are quite a few dominant influences on this style, almost everyone will point to one man as who they credit as being the original inspiration. This proverbial “Godfather” of dark surrealism is of course the Swiss surrealist, Hans Rudolf Giger.

As a young skater-punk in the mid and late eighties, I actually heard about H.R. Giger before I saw his work. I began listening to the Dead Kennedys in 6th grade when a friend’s older brother let me copy all their tapes from album onto cassette. I was young and paid no attention to the covers because the lyrics were so mind blowing on their own. It was not till a few years later when I got hold of one of Jello Biafra’s spoken word albums that I heard the name Giger. It was there that he recounts the events that ultimately led to the overall demise of the band. His recount not only actually pronounces the artist’s name correctly, but gives the background of Giger’s work on everything from other album covers to the awards the artist won for his design work in the movie Alien. By the end of 9th grade, I had hard bound copies of several of Giger’s art books, including the Necronomicon. By tenth grade, I was trying my hand at freehand airbrushing. Giger baby, Giger.


If you know anything about modern art, then you know that these movements were not limited to the medium of painting. Many of the painters, such as Dali were known for their photographic side projects. Others such as Man Ray, were straight up surrealist photographers. From a painting and tattooing perspective, I’d have to say that the contemporary photographer, Joel-Peter Whitkin is one of my favorites of the modern macabre class. His dark carnivalesque portraits, usually involving Mexican-style corpse portraiture and models with deformities, haunted me and fascinated me all at once. Even though my life is no longer steeped in such dark permeation, I still occasionally find myself admiring the dark simplicity of his work.

The last artist I’d like to throw out is one I’m proud to say is a friend. That doesn’t make her latest photographic work any less valid for this entry. Toby Penney is internationally represented in painting, sculpture and photography and was featured in over 40 publications both here and abroad in just the last year alone. Her photography ranges from dark dreamy landscapes to even darker portraiture. I highly recommend checking it out. Paul, if you are reading this, you should get some of this on your walls asap. Also, we should be interviewing her later this summer. Till then, you can check out her work at: http://www.tobypenney.com/photography.html.


So that is where I’ll stop and turn it over to you, the readers. As usual, the floor is open. Let us know what purveyors of dark imagery you like.

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Till next time


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