Joel Harlow’s Cthulhu

by Joe Fordham

Makeup effects designer Joel Harlow — who won an Academy Award for best achievement in makeup for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, and was nominated for his work on Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger — has a thing about tentacles.

Harlow dabbled in his psychosis creating barnacled encrustations for makeup effects in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but his obsession goes much deeper, back to his childhood; back to a time when the Great Old Ones ruled the planet in an era chronicled in the journals of the great American writer of gothic fantasy, Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

HarlowCthulhu“Ever since I can remember,” Harlow recalled, “I have been a fan of the work of H.P. Lovecraft. I remember taking walks with my father while on vacations in Denver, Colorado. We would head down Colfax, hitting all the used bookstores along the way. I would sift through piles of old and worn paperbacks looking for anything by Lovecraft, and anything dealing with the Cthulhu Mythos. Authors like August Derleth, Brian Lumley, Frank Belknap Long and others soon wound up in my modest collection.”

Lovecraft’s creations have inspired writers, artists and filmmakers including Stephen King, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, H.R. Giger, Guillermo Del Toro, Clive Barker and John Carpenter. Add to that Joel Harlow’s most recent personal sculpting project, depicting Lovecraft’s most famous creation: a giant beast, awakened from the South Pacific sunken city of R’lyeh, known as the Cthulhu. As described in Lovecraft’s 1928 short story, The Call of the Cthulhu, the creature was ‘a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.’

HarlowCthulhu2“I was captivated by the idea that there could be these beings whose appearance could compromise ones sanity by simply seeing them,” Harlow elaborated. “I think that was the foundation of this piece.  I have sculpted other Lovecraftian inspired pieces (some specifically Cthulhu) in the past, but I don’t think I had achieved that idea of a shifting, shambling, formless chaos before.

“I’m not saying that this piece is it, but in trying to photograph it, I realized that there is no real way to take it all in with one shot…. it’s as close as I have come thus far, I think. It stands roughly 20-inches tall and is cast in resin and assembled from roughly 40 pieces (mostly the tentacles), painted in washes of oil color and airbrushed tattoo color.”

Thanks, Joel, for indulging us in your nightmares. As Lovecraft noted, ‘The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.’

Visit Joel’s Cthulhu gallery here.

Cthulhu artwork courtesy and copyright © Joel Harlow.

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