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Basil Gogos: Master of All Monsters

March 12, 2023

Even among the vast diversity of stellar Greek-American artists, Basil Gogos will always hold a unique place. For Basil Gogos was, if nothing else, an internationally renowned maker of monsters. Strangely enough, it is Gogos’ particular vision of the grotesque that has given him enduring artistic fame. It is in Gogos’ dynamic color palette where art and agency converge. Somehow, in his striking depictions of creatures of utter horror, Gogos was also able to impart other more unexpected moods and complex feelings. All I can offer here is an all too quick review of this singular artist’s vision of the uncanny. It is up to you to judge whether I am too kind or too mean in my review of this acclaimed artist of the macabre.

On March 12, 1929, Basil Gogos was born in Egypt of Greek parents. Sometime around 1945, the Gogos family left Egypt for the United States. As with many others destined to become artists Gogos spent his earliest years avidly studying art. Over time Gogos attended noted art schools in New York City such as the National School of Design, the Phoenix School of Design, and the School of the Visual Arts. It is always noted that Gogos studied with acclaimed illustrator Frank J. Reilly at the Arts Students League of New York.

In 1959, Gogos’ career path was immediately set once he won the annual Pocket Books competition with his painting for the Western paperback novel ‘Pursuit’. This led to Gogos’ long series of painted covers and illustrations for what were then called Men’s Adventure magazines such as Man’s Action, Man’s Conquest, Man’s Illustrated, Widest West, Wildcat Adventures, and True Adventures.

In turn his striking covers for those publications led to other magazine work for publications such as Screen Thrills Illustrated as well as three horror-themed monthly magazines – Famous Monsters of Filmland, Creepy, and Eerie. “In all, Gogos was quoted as estimating he had produced some 400 illustrations to these two genres. But it is his ‘Famous Monsters’ cover illustrations for which he is now best known (Asbury Park Press May 1, 1994).”

Gogos never had to look for work again as he went on to paint what now seems a seemingly endless stream of book covers, men’s magazine illustrations, horror pulp covers, movie posters, covers for documentaries, and compact music disk covers – but I have jumped ahead of the chronology of these events.

It was with Gogos’ first cover illustration for Famous Monsters of Filmland issue #9 in 1960, where everything changed forever. A fantastically unexpected mix of psychedelic colors combined with his unique and frankly difficult to describe – yet notable – compassion for monsters and actors alike effortlessly graced not just this portrait but each and every portrait that followed. Such was the overall response to Gogos’ initial cover that he continued to produce incredibly compelling covers for this magazine for more than the next twenty years (Lexington Herald-Leader October 20, 2017). In point of fact, Gogos’ horror illustrations created during this period are today considered hallmarks of the genre.

The Famous Monsters of Filmland covers with his paintings include monstrous and mythic figures such as Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, King Kong, and literally dozens of other creatures from classic horror films. Complementing these covers were Gogos’ sensitive renderings of actors without their makeup, including but not limited to Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Elsa Lancaster, and so many others. But Gogos’ renderings of monsters did not end with magazine covers and select interior illustrations.

What was and remains so striking about all of Gogos’ artistic renditions of the above is that he did them in an astounding mix of colors. Remember, the classic 1930s array of monster movies were all in black and white…and remain so. Not with Gogos’ presentation of these classic personas. And somehow, and I keep having to emphasize this point, Gogos also manages to infuse not simply an incredibly wide pallet of color to each and every portrait but also – somehow – the very soul of the monster. As a rough estimate Gogos is quoted as saying he produced some 400 different paintings for all the book and magazine covers he completed in the 1960s through the 1970s.

But Gogos’ artistry was not to be limited to magazine covers or general illustrations. Gogos also created original artwork for the covers of compact discs and movie posters. “Though he largely retired from illustration in the 1980s and 1990s, Gogos did return to the field when fans who grew up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland began requesting his services. In the late 1990s Gogos painted covers for The Misfits albums…as well as Rob Zombie (https://www.illustrationhistroy.org /artists/basil-gogos).”

Rob Zombie (born Robert Bartleh Cummings) first commissioned Gogos to paint his portrait and then illustrate several of his music discs. This led to other musicians seeking out Gogos. Aptly enough, Gogos is ultimately credited with illustrating thirteen albums: ‘The Fiend Club Presents’, 1996; ‘Misfits’ (unspecified); ‘Grins Again’; ‘Sardonica (cover art); ‘American Psycho’ 1997; Misfits (artwork); ‘Hellbilly Deluxe’ 1998, ‘Rob Zombie’ (cover art); ‘Famous Monsters’ 1999, ‘Misfits’ (cover painting) 2002; ‘Cuts From The Crypt’ Misfits; ‘Divine Art of Torture’, ‘Necrophagia’ (cover art) 2003; ‘Past, Present and Future’ 2003; Rob Zombie (cover art), 2005; ‘Burn Bright, Burn Fast’ Electric Frankenstein (cover art), 2005, Fiend Club Lounge, The Nutley Brass (cover painting) 2013, ‘Horror Xmas’ Misfits (cover art) 2013; ‘Classic Album Collection’ Rob Zombie (cover art) 2019; ‘Here Lies Necrophagia: 35 Years of Death Metal’ Necrophagia, 2022; and finally ‘American Psycho (cover) by the Misfits. You may never have heard – or would want to – any of this music. Yet they sold millions of copies all around the world.

By “the late 1970s, Gogos decided to focus more on fine art; he did personal art pieces in watercolor and other media (http://www.imdb.com).”

Basil Gogos died on September 13, 2017 in Manhattan, New York City. Linda Touby, his wife and only immediate survivor, said the cause was probably a coronary. Basil Gogos is far from a forgotten figure. Various individual pieces of Gogos’ artwork continue to be sought after and sold all over the world. Including, artwork that has “wound up in the collections of folks like Rob Zombie, Johnny Depp, Nicholas Cage, Benicio Del Toro and Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett (Tulsa World April 28, 2017).”

In 2005, Vanguard Productions issued the large format glossy coffee table book, ‘Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos’ by Kerry Gammill and J. David Spurlock (Vanguard Publications, 2007). This 160-page volume showcases a vast collection of art. It is published on heavy-weight glossy paper and was compiled and edited by Kerry Gammill and J. David Spurlock. Rob Zombie, penned the introduction to this book. See also ‘The Monster Art of Basil Gogos’ by Linda Touby (January 1, 2019). Gogos’ wife “has collected his rare preliminary sketches, illustrations and alternative paintings into one lavish volume weighing 2 ½ pounds.” With this collection one can see something of Basil Gogos’ process for his unique creations.
In the end it is not whether or not you or I individually find Basil Gogos’ art intriguing… or a monstrous waste. Like other Greek-American artists one could name – Basil Gogos’ visionary work now belongs…to the world.

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