David Van Gough: Death, Spirituality, & Mythic Allegory, Interview

Mortality & Mythology Through Necro Surrealism Touch The Edge Between Spirit And Body.

David Van Gough is a Necrosurrealist artist, from Liverpool, who relocated to California in 2005. His pieces of art investigate topics such as decay, esotericism, spirituality, the occult self, and death. His distinctive style and unique approach reflect his personal interpretation of these concepts. The collections of artwork realized by David Van Gough delve into profound and particular aspects of the human condition, that touch the edge between spirit and body. In his necro-realist paintings, he uses allegory to depict an increased awareness of mortality and the deepest parts of the mind’s unfathomable covers. His paintings are evocative, emotional, and full of symbolism, communicating powerful messages and evoking personal reactions for each individual. David Van Gough inserts numerous references to invite the viewers to deeply focus and see that Death is alive in front of our eyes. He characterizes his artistic objective as “an emotional and spiritual excavation for purpose” by drawing on classical literature, religious imagery, mythology, alchemy, conspiracy, and personal history. He was named an Honoree Artist of 2010 by the San Diego Art Institute, and his work has been featured in a number of solo and featured exhibitions on both sides of the Atlantic, including major exhibits at the Oceanside Museum of Art (SD), Stephen Romano Gallery (NY), Copro and Gregorio Escalante Gallery (LA), Bash Contemporary (SF), and Dark Art Emporium in Long Beach. In 2019, his artwork was part of the development of the official “Uncanny” trophy award for the São Paulo horror film festival, Phenomena. In 2022, he launched the joint series “Death and the Maiden ” with renowned artist and friend Jasmine Becket-Griffith. David Van Gough currently lives and works from his studio in Julian, California.

David Van Gough‘ s official site, Instagram and Facebook

Were you always attracted to the dark, occult, skulls, demons, horror, death, etc., since your childhood? Where did your interest in these themes originate?

From a very early age-yes. My bedroom overlooked Anfield cemetery in Liverpool, and coming from a rather Irish, Catholic upbringing-one that was often struck by illness, tragedy and death-I had an innate sense of my mortality, which became articulated through my interests, and my art.

I think there was something dark permeating the air during those times too-it was the time of the Yorkshire Ripper, union blackouts and the Toxteth riots, so there was this real sense of a society in decay, and I think themes of folk Horror, occultist mysticism and Hauntology were something that thrived anecdotally on the fringe throughout the seventies.

It became quite easy to find comics like the House of Mystery, or Van Thals Pan books of Horror, magazines like Man, Myth and Magic on the newsagent shelf and on television there were dramas like Armchair Thrillers or Children of the Stones, along with late night Horror double bills, so it all became a kind of touch stone to make sense of the chaos. Giving a face to the monsters, along with the possibility that a life beyond the one I was living, had a very real, visual sense of excitement.

gough rise
Gough Rise © David Van Gough

Could you share insights into your formative years, specifically if any artists or works significantly influenced or inspired your creative direction?

I can tell you that it was during an art class at school one day, when having seen my bestial scrawls, my teacher-Miss Hughes-introduced me to the Garden of Earthly Delights by Heironymous Bosch in an old art book. It didn’t even matter that the reproduction was in black and white, but it opened a world of technicolor possibility and I have Miss Hughes to thank, because the die was cast that day.

DVG Where Death and Nature Breeds 1024x763
Where Death and Nature Breeds © David Van Gough

What were the main challenges you faced when deciding to professionally pursue a creative path with themes that are not considered mainstream? How were your initial efforts received, and did you encounter any significant difficulties?

I think it’s been a fight for acceptance within a narrow grade perception, so of course the most common voices of dissent that I’ve encountered periodically, have come puritanically. That what I’m doing is dark and nefarious or Satanic, and one time I was even confronted with the charge that my work was disturbing for children. Gun drills at a school are disturbing for children, the Catholic Church could certainly be said to have been disturbing for children, and of course, there’s nothing more palatable to the masses, than a tortured bleeding deity, hanging from the cross.

Ultimately though, I think it’s something that comes with the territory, when you do the kind of work that evokes a side where people are reminded of the notion of how finite, fragile and cruel life is.

DVG Whats dark within illuminate
Whats dark within illuminate © David Van Gough

How has your artistic style and surrealistic vision evolved over the years? What has changed, and what remains unaltered?

Whether it’s the skulls of my “Theothanatos” series, or my recent “Death and the Maiden” collaboration with artist Jasmine Becket Griffith, I think thematically the props and symbols have stayed the same, along with the fundamental questions. It’s still that eternal search for some sort of meaning, it’s only the way I ask the questions that has changed.

I’m just viewing the same scene through a different lens, but still hoping for a different answer.

DVG THIS THING OF DARKNESS I ACKNOWLEDGE MINE
THIS THING OF DARKNESS I ACKNOWLEDGE MINE © David Van Gough

I have read that you identify with the Necrorealism movement. How does this movement merge into your own art? Can you tell us more about your art ideology and philosophy?

People like to easily categorize what you do, so when I heard about the Russian Necrorealist movement which explored themes of death, decay and transformation it seemed like the closest relative to my aims. I think the founder and filmmaker-Yevgeny Yufit was possibly a lot more anarchic, minimal and nihilistic in his visual approach, I think I’m a little more spiritual and baroque, but there’s a brutalist sensibility in our work that we both share, that possibly calls back to our upbringings in Leningrad and Liverpool respectively.

DVG THE WASTELAND
THE WASTELAND © David Van Gough

Your pieces of art touch also the spiritual side and beauty, but with a consistent narrative to your art practice. I have seen a picture of you with a cat. Cats are super beautiful, independent, and elegant. Cats are also animals mythologically linked to spirituality and magic. Can you share your vision of spirituality and beauty?

What’s that saying?”Religion is for people who are scared of Hell-spirituality is for people who have been there.” Certainly my art is, and the only way I can speak to its spirituality is by which I believe it can be like an alchemical incantation. The process of transforming the degrado to gold is akin to recapitulating those turmoil of emotions and feelings and manifesting something tangible and beautiful. It’s like my self portrait-“What’s Dark Within-Illuminate”, it’s very much a feeling of wrenching something from the abyss and like an anthropologist, making a strange amoeba of it.

I don’t know that my cat Ronin is particularly spiritual, but I have seen him disappear and emerge seemingly from a portal.

DVG SO LIE THERE MY ART
SO LIE THERE MY ART © David Van Gough

Do you meditate? Do you practice relaxation or spiritual practices? Where do you get your inspiration?

Art by its nature is a meditation-a solitary consort with something unseen-and artists are like priests, kneeling before our altars of blind faith.

Inspiration comes forensically, sometimes like a dream, it’s a way of decoding the internal bedlam.

My last three large scale series were ruminations on three literary works-Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and Eliot’s “The Wasteland”-not so much as direct adaptations of the stories, but rather the way some of passages would resonate and what feelings they would summon visually.

It’s all a way of sorting through the clutter of the day’s detritus, and finding an artifact that’s singularly notable.

DVG Prophet and Loss
Prophet and Loss © David Van Gough

Is any of your artwork related to a moment that marked a significant point in your life? Could you share with us the story behind it?

I think all my work has been marked in essence by some turmoil, but particularly I can think of my entire last series “Infernal-the Denouement ” which materialized during the pandemic. It became a kind of prescient testament to the times we were living, one’s of great social and personal upheaval- particularly when my father passed and we were temporarily stranded in England with Covid, while we helped with funeral arrangements, and his estate. It was like this factotum to grief and the aggrieved, which became further salient when the exhibition opened at Dark Art Emporium during the restrictions of social distance and masks.

Then, shortly after I started work on my largest painting to date a year ago-“The Last Temptation of St Anthony”-my wife Lani was diagnosed with breast cancer, so it’s themes of suffering and torment, has been like a literal conjuration of demons flagellating in the studio.

DVG Origins of a Black Hole 1
Origins of a Black Hole 1 © David Van Gough

How did your art find its way into a Serial Killer Culture Documentary? Has the response to your artwork changed since your appearance in this project?

Since I’d been brought up in Liverpool, the Beatles were ubiquitous, and so of course when I discovered this through line culturally between The White Album and the Manson murders, I was fascinated. It became this obsessive quest when I moved to California, to discover an occultish thread, between my hometown and LA, casting Sharon Tate as this tragic holy muse and falling down the conspiratorial rabbit hole that surrounds the case.

My series “Man/son and the Haunting of the American Madonna ” had just wrapped up at Hyaena Gallery, when the director John Borowski had reached out to film a segment featuring my work, as a sort of social commentary on the arbiters of true crime. I had no idea at the time it would find its way onto streaming services, and I guess it opened me up to something of a wider audience when it aired. I think over a decade on, it’s attempt to make sense of a tragedy through some kind of sinister architecture, has become commonplace as daily preoccupations in society, and be it eclipses or a boat crashing into a bridge, everyone is searching for meaning in the chaos.

Photos and artworks courtesy of David Van Gough

Last Updated on April 11, 2024 by retrofuturista

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