Artist Michael Hutter uses lashings of red in his unsettling work. We discovered him while researching this issue, and reached out to uncover the stories behind some of his compellingly terrifying images.

Q: As mentioned, this is our Red issue, a color you incorporate a lot into your images. Can you please tell me how and why you use the color so extensively?

A: I do not choose the colors consciously. I choose them only by feeling. But I want my paintings to be intense and extreme and the colors as saturated as possible. Red is a strong signal, mostly a warning. But it can also be of immense beauty. And just as contradictory are many things that are red. Blood is the fluid that keeps us alive, but if you spill it, it symbolizes murder and violent death. The use of fire started human civilization and its misuse will probably end it. The Devil is also associated with red and he is as dangerous as seductive...

Q: There are mythical and historical influences on your work. Where do those come from? What are your sources?

A: To evoke these pictures, I expose myself to dark literature, like fairy tales or the Bible, art, music, superstition, religion, the occult, science, and pseudo-science. I do not care about reality or the probability that something is true, only its potential to stimulate my imagination. In my opinion truth is somehow an illusion anyway. Following the logic of dreams and nightmares, I mix what I suck into the unconscious with my obsessions, passions, desires and fears. Finally, I form what rises again into pictures and tales.

Q: Are there other colors that evoke the macabre?

A: Probably any color is capable of doing that, if you combine it in the right, sinister way with other colors. But, of course, I love the morbid greens and the violet grays...

Q: You often pair red with green. Is that for reasons other than the contrast? Are there polar representations happening there, e.g. fire vs nature?

A: Complementary color contrasts are very important for my compositions. I need the green to support the impact of the red, and vice versa. But, of course, polarities also have a deeper meaning in my work. Beauty and terror, desire and fear, the sacred and the filthy, lust and nightmares, love and death... it’s these opposites that haunt me and fertilize my fantasy.

Q: When did you start drawing macabre art? What ignited your interest in it?

A: I decided to be an artist at the age of 13. The trigger was the discovery of surrealism. At that time, I was in quite a bit of inner distress, still had to struggle with the traumatizing experiences that had been implanted in me at the Catholic primary school, was confused by the onset of puberty and the mysterious desires and wishes that it brought about. Surrealism was really a revelation for me, it gave me the opportunity to put my dreams above reality and to make the forbidden – and even the completely impossible – come true.

Q: Can you describe the worlds you create in more detail, with examples?

A: My pictures can only capture one moment of a story at a time and usually this is the only moment I know myself. Sometimes, however, I know about a development, have a hunch about the before and after. Then I feel the desire to write. My latest collection of stories, The Kranzedan Tales, soon to be published by Centipede Press, includes 33 short stories. Can I read you one or two?

The Woman In The Red Suit

When the Kranzedan was still a child, he lived with his parents in a tenement building, opposite a vast factory site. From his kitchen window he was able to look directly onto the tracks of the works’ rail yard. He would often sit there, hour after hour, deeply engrossed in the shunting of the trains.

A steel bridge spanned the rails and, having crossed it, one reached a footpath hemmed in by tall concrete walls that led through the factory grounds. Several children were said to have vanished on that walkway, and so the Kranzedan’s parents strictly forbade him to set foot on the bridge or the path beyond.

One day it came to pass that an unknown woman, wearing a red suit, addressed the Kranzedan who was playing on the street in front of his house. She smiled at him and asked him whether he would like to come with her. The Kranzedan looked at her full of fright. He only shook his head, fled inside and ran upstairs, where he spent the rest of the day in his room, silent and distraught. Only in the evening, when he was put to bed, did he have the courage to tell his mother of the unsettling experience. She chided him only mildly for not mentioning it earlier; perhaps she did not really take his story seriously, or maybe she was relieved that nothing really bad had befallen him.

Many decades later, the Kranzedan was drawn back to the place where he had spent his childhood. Everything appeared smaller and much had changed. The works had closed down years ago, but the steel bridge was still there. The Kranzedan disregarded the sign which prohibited entrance to the structure, climbed over the railing and soon found himself upon that walkway, which he had never dared to tread as a child.

Through a hole in the concrete wall, he climbed onto the former factory grounds. Following the scrub-covered tracks of the works’ railway through a wasteland of bushes, past the remains of dilapidated buildings and warehouses, he finally reached the ruins of an octagonal water tower, which rose from a small grove. The chain link fence, supposed to protect the crumbling brick structure, had holes in many places, so it was easy to gain access to the tower. A rusty steel door lay across the threshold, and underneath it the Kranzedan glimpsed, amid a pile of rags, something vermilion. He picked it up and recognized in the moldy scrap, the jacket of a lady’s suit. He stood there for a long time, lost in thought, looking at the decaying piece of fabric. Then he walked through the narrow doorway and vanished into the tower, forever…

The Last Train

The Kranzedan’s search for the Museum of Extraterrestrial Cultures had, at last, led him to a small town, secluded high up in the mountains. The town was supposed to be abandoned soon after, and in the following days and weeks, whilst the Kranzedan sought in vain for the museum, the citizens were steadily leaving.

That is how the Kranzedan came to be sitting in the station building, shivering with cold and disappointment, waiting for the train that would take him and the last of the inhabitants down the mountain.

Then a curious little man, whom he had not seen before, came to him and offered to lead him to the museum that he was looking for.

The Kranzedan, however, shook his head sadly and said that it was too late now, the last train was about to arrive, and he had to leave. And indeed, the chugging of the engine could already be heard in the distance. The Kranzedan watched as the train came around the last corner and started to cross the stone viaduct that spanned the deep abyss that separated the town from the outside world. Mesmerized, he watched on as the engine swerved from its rails and, pulling the carriages with it, plunged, crashing and screeching, into the deep.

And when the noise had died down, the little man asked once more whether the gentleman would like to accompany him to the museum, now that the train would not be arriving. The Kranzedan took a long look at the smoldering debris, deep down in the gorge, then went with the stranger, never to been seen again.

Q: Awesome. Can you describe some of the recurring motifs in your work? What are their significances?

A: The monkey, the devil, the bird-mask, submarines and kraken, the pleasures of hell and the dark side of paradise... it is some kind of personal mythology I create. But meaning is meaningless in a meaningless world, unless you invent your own.

Q: What thoughts and/or emotions are you hoping to evoke in the people regarding your work?

A: I do not want to manipulate the recipients. Thoughts and emotions are very private, and any person can have his or her own.

Q: Can you describe your technique?

A: Over the years I developed my own oil painting technique, based on the technique of the old masters. I usually paint on wood panels because I want my paintings to have the vibe of paintings done in early Renaissance. I prepare the wood with a primer made from glue, chalk, and zinc white. After that the very detailed drawing is made with pencil and egg tempera, and after finishing that, I apply two to three thin layers of oil color. Before I start with the actual oil painting, I often do several watercolors to elaborate the composition.