Tuesday 4 November 2014

Book Review: Natasha Scharf – 'The Art Of Gothic'

'The Art Of Gothic'

The natural extension of her first book on the gothic subculture, 'World Wide Gothic', internationally renowned journalist Natasha Scharf (Meltdown Magazine, Total Rock Radio, Metal Hammer, Terrorizer) returns with 'The Art Of Gothic'. A rich and detailed look at the development of the gothic aesthetic in parallel with the ever growing and changing subculture from the late 1970s up to the present day.

The book looks at the fashions, artwork, and visuals of the gothic scene as well as interconnected movements such as deathrock, industrial, cyberpunk,  steampunk, harajuku, and visual kei while cherry-picking individual artists and designers such as Jon Klein, John Coulthart, Anne Sudworth, Steven R. Gilmore, and Roman Dirge for deeper analysis.

With a brief introduction from Sex Gang Children legend Andi Sex Gang the initially book sets up the elements that would come together through the post punk and dark new wave genres to eventually coalesce into goth. The book then follows the genre from the batcave years with its D.I.Y credentials and emphasis on camp horror. Through to the influence of classic gothic literature and imagery as it injected a big dose of fantasy into the modern fashion and art. And into the worlds of cyberpunk and steampunk literature and their influence on the artwork and fashions seen today. The book also looks at the cross-pollination of international movements like Deathrock and Japan's Harajuku and Visual Kei fashions and even the influence of gothic on modern high fashion designers.

Scharf's writing style is direct and engaging, honed through an impressive journalistic career that has seen her specialise in all things gothic. As a result the book is an easy and accessible read with an authoritative tone that unifies the chapters into a cohesive whole and uses a variety of quotes to efficiently sum up the subjects explored in of each of them.

The layout of the book is exceptional with great attention to detail given to every aspect. From the hard back cover with its dark filigree and purples to the internal pages with the large high resolution pictures and textured backgrounds, it all adds up to create a opulent book that perfectly presents the often luxurious artwork depicted within.

'The Art Of Gothic' is part subcultural analysis and part visual catalogue. The focus on the artists and designers behind the aesthetics of the genre rather than purely the music adds a different slant to the typical “it started with post-punk, then came The Sisters, and then the internet” time line that we are used to reading. It shows how gothic and its interconnected genres have flourished as an underground artistic movement rather than solely a musical genre that occasionally gets the nod from the mainstream.

Collating over thirty years of art into one book is not an easy task, but Scharf has made it look so. It is extensively researched and will add a lot more depth to anyone's research into subculture movements of the 20th/21st centuries, especially when coupled with 'Worldwide Gothic'. It is also light and visual enough to also be attractive to more casual readers who are looking for inspiration rather than information. In short, it's a must have for the book shelf.

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