As we approach the New Year, the countdown to the End of Times has already begun, so, you know, chop chop — start prepping! Or praying, depending on which version of events you subscribe to. But first, let’s take a short survey of various apocalyptic visions in art history and today’s contemporary art and illustration. Whether grounded in biblical belief, Hollywood disaster film hysteria, or modern fears of a nuclear war, get ready for a year of enthusiastic resurgence of the “End of the World” motif because December 21, 2012 is only 360 days and 10 hours — to the minute! — away.
Image credit: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death, c. 1562, oil on panel, 117 cm × 162 cm (46 in × 63.8 in), Courtesy Museo del Prado, Madrid
It’s the ultimate End of Days panorama, from armies of skeletons wreaking havoc on the chaotic, barren, burning landscape akin to a modern disaster film, only you know, in the sixteenth century.
Image Credit: Albrecht Dürer, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, ca. 1497–98, woodcut, 15 3/8 x 11 in. (39.2 x 27.9 cm), Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art
This one’s a classic. Death, Famine, War and Plague — not the posse you want to run into.
Image credit: Hieronymus Bosch, The Last Judgement, 1482-1516, oil-on-wood triptych (center), Courtesy Akademie der Bildenden Künste
It’s never a good sign when a giant human hamburger meat grinder rolls into your town.
Image credit: John Hendrix, Doomsday from Disasters
John Hendrix is a contemporary artist who has illustrated many children’s books. Just not, you know, with this particularly Boschian number of all imaginable modern disasters ever.
Image credit: Bruce Conner, BOMBHEAD, 1989-2002, pigment on RC photo and somerset paper, acrylic 32 x 25 in. Edition of 20. Courtesy of Walker Art Center
Master mixed media artist Bruce Conner has previously used the declassified footage of the first underwater atomic bomb test at Bikini Atol for a kinetic short film Crossroads. For this work, he combined original negatives of his own portrait and an atomic bomb photo from the National Archives, Library of Congress. Voilà: BOMBHEAD. It’s a theme that sticks.
Image credit: Alexander Leydenfrost for Pageant Magazine, February, 1951 edition, Courtesy San Francisco Weekly
Popular illustrator Alexander Leydenfrost created an epic spread of detailed disaster imagery for Pageant Magazine that looks like every apocalyptic disaster film ever.
Image credit: John Martin, The Great Day of His Wrath, 1851-3. Courtesy TATE Museum
The planet is breaking! Olde school painter John Martin expressed the biblical End of Times in the natural landscape erupting, reddening the skies and gurgling with fire. What a show.
Image credit: Adam Friedman, Uranium’s Slow Return to Ore, 2008, screen print, acrylic, gel and lacquer transfers, collagraph, and collage on panel, 29″x 29″. Couresty Adam Friedman
The planet is breaking again! Very new school artist Adam Friedman’s fascination with geology lends to a very universal theme of Earth Goes Boom.
Image credit: Steve McGee, Water vs City
Well, if that was too “weird” for you, here’s some classic Hollywood-style disaster imagery that Steve McGee’s known for.
Image credit: Konstantin Batynkov. Courtesy Pop/off/art Gallery
If that’s too “boring” for you, here’s one of Russian painter Konstantin Batynkov’s apocalyptic, monochrome visions. Other visions include inexplicable dinosaurs and elephants. Well, you never know.
Image credit: Jiang Pengyi, Unregistered City, No.2 2008-2010, archival inkjet print
A shattered metropolitan landscape inside of a shattered building? How meta.
Image credit: Alex Lukas, 2011 022 Untitled, 2011 ink, acrylic and silk screen on commercially produced offset poster, 37″ x 50″. Courtesy Guerrero Gallery
Hush hush. It’s all over. Though artist Alex Lukas insists his art isn’t post-apocalyptic, this uninhabitable New York skyline — poking out of the fog, draped in wild greenery — says otherwise.
Image credit: Giacomo Costa, Plant 1 Lichtobjekt, 2011, 80 x 160 cm. Courtesy Preis auf Anfrage
Nothing says nature is boss like a big tree rising triumphantly out of an infinite gray landscape of civilization’s shattered left-overs.
Do you have a favorite vision of the Apocalypse? Feel free to forewarn us in our comments section.