In honor of my story ‘A Pickman Original’ appearing in Ulthar Press’ newest anthology ‘Pickman’s Gallery’, I thought I would take a dive into the character that the anthology is centered on. The original call for the book asked for stories centered on or connected to the infamous artist. If you’re interested in this anthology (you should be!) I think it would help to know a little more about it’s strange subject.
Who is Richard Upton Pickman?
The character was created by renowned horror author H.P. Lovecraft. He first appeared in a story entitled, ‘Pickman’s Model’, written in September 1927, and published in the October 1927 issue of ‘Weird Tales’.
If you haven’t read the story, I suggest you check it out. It’s available for free online here. I think it may be one of my favorite of Lovecraft’s stories. Here’s a quick synopsis, taken from www.yog-sothoth.com:
The story revolves around a Bostonian painter named Richard Upton Pickman who creates horrifying images. His works are brilliantly executed, but so graphic that they result in the revocation of his membership in the Boston Art Club and he is shunned by his fellow artists.
The narrator is a friend of Pickman, who, after the artist’s mysterious disappearance, relates to another acquaintance how he was taken on a tour of Pickman’s personal gallery, hidden away in a run-down backwater slum of the city. As the two delved deeper into Pickman’s mind and art, the rooms seemed to grow ever more evil and the paintings ever more horrific, ending with a final enormous painting of an unearthly, red-eyed and vaguely canine humanoid balefully chewing on a human victim.
A noise sent Pickman running outside the room with a gun while the narrator reached out to unfold what looked like a small piece of rolled paper attached to the monstrous painting. The narrator heard some shots and Pickman walked back in with the smoking gun, telling a story of shooting some rats, and the two men departed.
Afterwards the narrator realized that he had nervously grabbed and put the rolled paper in his pocket when the shots were fired. He unrolled the paper to reveal that it is a photograph not of the background of the painting, but of the subject. Pickman drew his inspirations not from a diseased imagination, but from monsters that were very much real.
According to H.P. Lovecraft’s text ‘History of the Necronomicon’, Pickman vanishes from his home sometime in 1926. He does appear again in ‘The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath’, but this time as a ghoul.
I think ‘Pickman’s Model’ works so well because Lovecraft captures the breathless horror that he’s known for so perfectly. We feel like we’re there with Thurber as he descends further into his friend’s studio. While the descriptions of the art and the ghouls feel quaint by today’s horror standards, it’s hard to deny the sense of terror that Lovecraft creates. At first we assume that Richard Upton Pickman is mad. But the truth is so much worse.
Want More Pickman?
I can’t blame you. He seems like a cool guy. Little eccentric, but who isn’t? Here’s where you can find him:
‘Pickman’s Other Model’ by Caitlin Kiernan
This is one of my favorite short stories ever. This story acts as a sequel of sorts to the original story, but with some added bite. I read it when it was reprinted in ‘New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird’, edited by Paula Guran.
‘Pickman’s Gift’ – A quest in the game ‘Fallout 4’
A quest in Bethesda’s massive RPG has you helping/hurting a murderous artist that shares a name with our subject. The Fallout franchise loves a good Lovecraftian reference, and this one is a corker. Though this isn’t the exact same character, it’s the closest you’re going to get digitally. It’s one of the better side quests in the game, so I suggest you step out into the Commonwealth and seek it out if you haven’t already.
I mentioned it above, but I can’t let you go without one last plug. I can tell you now that this collection will be worth every penny that you lay down. Matthew Carpenter has put together an incredible TOC that deserves your attention. When this drops later this month, I’ll let you know. I’m also considering having a give away for a copy, so be ready for that.
That’s everything you need to know about Richard Upton Pickman. I didn’t mention everything (I didn’t talk about the Night Gallery episode because I have not seen it *gasp*), but I think I hit the highlights. Am I missing any good Pickman stuff? Let me know in the comments below!