Piece of the Week: ‘Cthulhu Britannica’ by Jon Hodgson
Artist Jon Hodgson’s piece “Cthulhu Britannica” is beautifully deceptive – it depicts an idyllic setting of a crisp blue sky over a cottage and pond. A father and son go about their farming, but from the water beneath erupts the spiny tentacles of the beast Cthulhu, a reference to the deity created by writer H.P. Lovecraft.
Hodgson’s scene has the familiar narrative of a “man versus beast” tale like Ahab and Moby Dick, but in Hodgson’s version the men are not out hunting the animal but are caught by surprise in a battle they are sure to lose. It’s a piece that contains a moment of truly surprising terror – it’s as if the beast interrupted a perfectly serene painting, catching everyone off guard, even the artist.
“Cthulhu Britannica” is a smartly crafted painting that takes a realist’s approach to early country living and blends it with science-fiction and fantasy. Hodgson makes reference to the era with the simple cottage and horse drawn carriage, but off in the distance – a space ship flies by. One of Hodgson’s most brilliant touches is the aggressive splattered white of the water at the base of the tentacles, disrupting the calm of the water and of the beast’s victims.
Hodgson’s brush work gives the piece a classic feel, a painting that could hang in an office or living room but then there’s that beast and its attack on mankind, but this is not a painting that gets by on quick humor. Hodgson treats the moment with such accuracy that the viewer is left in awe of the strange horror taking place.
Update: Thanks to commenter Jane Williams below for pointing out that this is a very clever play on John Constable’s 1821 painting, “The Hay Wain.” Mighty smart move there, Mr. Hodgson!