Nyarlathotep: the Crawling Chaos


Unveiling another new piece of work, this is a T-shirt design for metal band Cyaegha whose Steps of Descent album I illustrated and designed last year. They asked for something based on HP Lovecraft’s god Nyarlathotep so I thought I’d take the opportunity to rework from scratch the version of this I created in 1999 for the first edition of The Haunter of the Dark. I always felt the earlier piece was going in the right direction but lacked somewhat in execution; this makes up for that. Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep is one of his most curious creations, in part because the conception of the character changed over many years. In various stories, letters and dream fragments the god/entity is variously described as an Egyptian pharaoh, an itinerant showman with electrical apparatus, the “black man” of European witch cults and the more typically Lovecraftian squamous alien monstrosity. The challenge, then, is to try and represent a little of each of these elements without overly favouring one or the other.

This is one of two illustrations I’ve produced in recent months which use Photoshop to imitate the engraving collage style of Wilfried Sätty, an artist whose work I discussed in an essay for Strange Attractor #2 in 2005. Sätty’s style was derived from Max Ernst’s famous collage “novels” of the 1930s and Photoshop is the ideal tool for this, far better than the old method of scissors, paper and glue. Sätty expanded Ernst’s technique by using reverse printing and the duplication of images; Photoshop extends the technique even further, making it possible to scale images up or down instead of being limited to the size of the original reproduction. The other illustration I’ve done in this style is for a short story and I’ll reveal that closer to publication. In the meantime I should be making a slightly different version of the new Nyarlathotep suitable for the usual range of CafePress products. More about those when they’re done.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Haunted Palace
The art of Stephen Aldrich

9 thoughts on “Nyarlathotep: the Crawling Chaos”

  1. I honestly like this rendition of Nyarlathotep a little better than the one you did for ‘Haunter . . .’ even though this is basically an altered copy of it. This one brings up the recurring ancient Sumerio/Egyptian aspects of the god/beast.

    Of all the published Necronomicons (pertaining specifically to Lovecraft that is), Donald Tyson’s is my favorite and he really emphasized this aspect in an intriguing way. Perhaps this why I am so nerdily ga-ga over Nyarlathotep when it comes to Mythos crap.

  2. I ‘do’ think you did a great job incorporating all of his faces and phases though.

  3. Thanks, Wiley. One of the interesting aspects of doing the pantheon of gods was how you represent things which are barely described. Cthulhu aside, I didn’t want to draw a series of big monsters, that seems the wrong way to represent interdimensional entities. Alan Moore said something about how one of the pieces–Shub-Niggurath, I think–seeming to be caught in a “quantum superposition” between different states of existence. I hadn’t been aiming consciously to convey that impression but Shub-Niggurath and a couple of the others have that effect. This one is more of a tableau piece than anything else.

  4. Hi Evan. You’ve reminded me that I was remiss in not mentioning Haeckel with this. I’ve plundered his work a lot for these pieces.

  5. Ah Shub-Niggurath, that is perhaps the one Great Old, One that I am at a loss as to how one would illustrate. Besides your one portrait I cannot think of a single really well-done and serious picture of this particular beast.

    She perhaps would need horns as a symbol of fertility, and yet the title of ‘Black goat’ is only symbolic, and that image is overused in most depictions.

    So does one make her amorphous as many of her fucked-up siblings? Maybe, but she does require a certain feminine quality, and I am not suggesting one make her seem inviting or nurturing, simply that she needs this incorporated in order to distinguish her from the others.

    Perhaps tableau pieces are the best ways to depict beings for which some of their qualities are known, yet beyond this are largely indescribable.

    One could use a throne, flute, and dancers for Azathoth, as well as the more abrasive necessities, perhaps coral, scales, and gills mixed with exotic luxury and human clergyman for Dagon, and so forth.

  6. Despite the various descriptions, I’ve never been able to imagine Azathoth as anything other than some kind of cosmic singularity like a sentient black hole. HPL was very smart in leaving these things vague, he knew that the imagination rushes to fill the gaps. A lot of the descriptive stuff about whining flutes can be read as a metaphor for some inhuman noise, a sound primitive peoples have maybe interpreted as the whine of flutes.

    I’ve been asked to sketch some creatures for a planned feature film which has the Black Goat and its young as a character/thing. Supposed to be doing that now actually, but I’ve had too many other things to finish up first, this piece among them.

  7. Its just beautiful. Really nice work as always. Your one of my favorite artists John.

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