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Cthulhu Calling brings together visions inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft

When a Shoggoth Calls

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Nashville artist Adam Baker first discovered the work of horror pulp-master H.P. Lovecraft at the impressionable age of 12. "I saw Stuart Gordon's movie Re-Animator and thought, 'This is some crazy stuff,' " Baker says. But when he went looking for the source material, he found the thick and formal prose of the original stories a little challenging: "I tried to read Lovecraft, and I didn't know what the hell half the words were. I had to read it with a dictionary beside me."

But what really captured Baker's artistic imagination were the surreal and disturbing covers that John Jude Palencar painted for Lovecraft's books in the 1990s. "Gordon's movies are quirky fun," Baker says, "but Palencar's art showed me a whole new side of Lovecraft — a deep, dark side."

Over time, Baker gained more appreciation for the ornate prose of Lovecraft's writing, and he's certainly not alone in his appreciation of the concepts and imagery that Lovecraft introduced to horror literature. In celebration of the 122nd anniversary of Lovecraft's birth, Nashville-area artists who share Baker's appreciation will have their work on display at Cthulhu Calling: An Evening of Art Inspired by the Works of H.P. Lovecraft at Logue's Black Raven Emporium on Saturday, Aug. 18.

A native of Providence, R.I., Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890. An often sickly, misanthropic and primarily self-taught intellectual, Lovecraft was able to channel his phobias and obsessions into his writing. In 1919, he began writing and selling a series of strange tales that established him as the most influential writer of horror fiction since Edgar Allan Poe.

Lovecraft's writing centered on the idea of "cosmic horror" — that humanity and all its accomplishments were inconsequential in the face of an uncaring and malevolent universe, a realm that was populated by nonhuman creatures and would one day reclaim the Earth as their own. In the fiction he wrote until his death in 1937, Lovecraft created a story cycle of ancient races and gods that is commonly referred to as the "Cthulhu Mythos." In many ways, it was the first fictional "shared universe," as Lovecraft's work inspired other writers to explore and expand upon his creations in the pages of the classic fiction pulp Weird Tales.

"I love that his writing was his interpretation of society as he viewed it, and artists are still reinterpreting his writing today," Jeanette Gipson says. Gipson, along with Baker, are the organizers of the Cthulhu Calling exhibit. The event was originally planned as a two-artist show, featuring work by Jeanette's husband, Scott Gipson, alongside Baker's work. But when they began mentioning the concept to others, it quickly snowballed into a larger event. "People are so excited by the idea. I've already had people ask if we're doing it again next year," Gipson says.

The show will highlight a mix of styles and media from 12 local artists. "The artists are from different backgrounds," Baker says, "some are pure illustrators, some are poster and graphic designers, some do cartoonish work. We'll also have digital art, woodblock prints and even sculpture."

The variety of the show extends beyond the types of art and into the way different artists interpret Lovecraft's concepts and creations. Thanks partly to the success of Lovecraft-inspired movies and the role-playing game Call of Cthulhu, many of Lovecraft's creations have entered popular culture. References to Lovecraft's ancient deities like Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth, the fictional forbidden book The Necronomicon, or Lovecraft's imaginary locales like the towns of Arkham and Innsmouth have permeated movies, books, comics and merchandising, making them familiar to people who have never read a single page of Lovecraft's fiction.

"I'm excited that we're going to have people whose concept of Lovecraft is a plush Cthulhu doll alongside people who take Lovecraft's work very seriously," Baker says. "I want to hear the conversation between a plushy lover and the guy that really thinks the old ones really are coming back."

Both original art and prints will be available for purchase, and a program of Lovecraft-inspired short films and features will be showing in the Cult Fiction Underground Theatre throughout the event, including the world-debut episode of a new Web series by Murfreesboro film director Nathan Fisher. With the advance buzz and excitement for the show, Baker and Gipson say they are already planning another for next year to tie in with Lovecraft's birthday, and have begun discussing the possibility of other quarterly art and film-related exhibits at Logue's Black Raven Emporium.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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