Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness

One of the best occult-infused programs that aired on television during the 1970s was Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. The series ran for three seasons on NBC between 1970-1973 following a feature-length telefilm that debuted in 1969. Despite its brevity, Night Gallery helped secure Serling’s place in television history and can still induce nightmares in viewers brave enough to venture into its hallowed halls.

Much like its predecessor, the highly acclaimed Twilight Zone, Night Gallery was an anthology show comprised of multiple vignettes. It featured scripts written by Serling and other screenwriters including the show’s producer and director Jack Laird that were often based on the work of distinguished horror and fantasy writers such as Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Joan Aiken, Fritz Leiber and Manly Wade Wellman. To its credit the series was also responsible for launching the careers of some well-known directors and actors including Steven Spielberg, John Badham, Diane Keaton, and Mark Hamill.

Each episode would begin with an introduction by Serling who could be seen lurking in the shadows of the ominous Night Gallery before he revealed a painting or sculpture that would accompany the evening’s entertainment. But these were not just any works of art. The imaginative gallery was filled with macabre, eerie, and otherworldly artistic creations that sent subtle shock waves through the unconscious minds of unsuspecting viewers.

Decades after the show went off the air and many of the plots and fine performances were long forgotten, viewers would often recall a particular painting that still haunted them. This speaks to the incredible quality of the art that was displayed on the show as well as its power. Loaded with suggestive symbolism and shrouded in mystery, the art displayed in Night Gallery proposed questions that rarely had answers and gave shape to nightmares and dark dreamscapes that refused to go gently into the good night from which they came.

No one knows this better than the authors and publisher of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness. It took Scott Skelton, Jim Benson and Tayler L. White more than twenty years to collect, compile and release a book about the art that appeared in Night Gallery and their devotion is commendable. Fans of the television show, as well as anyone who appreciates dark art, will be happy to know that it was well worth the wait.

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness is a massive 316 page tome published by Creature Features. This beautiful 11×11” coffee table-worthy book was released last year and includes reproductions and reconstructions of every painting featured in Night Gallery as well as many of the sculptures. Each work of art is accompanied by Serling’s original episode introduction and a brief description. An enthusiastic preamble by Guillermo Del Toro opens the volume followed by a heartfelt foreword written by Serling’s daughter, Anne. The rest of the book is devoted to celebrating the contributions of the artists while discussing their backgrounds, methods, and memories of working on the show. Bonus materials include previously unseen concept art as well as tribute art by contemporary creators.

The book’s expansive layout gives each piece of gallery art the respect it deserves allowing readers to grapple with the imagery and themes. I also appreciated the book’s black pages that act as mats framing each painting. The dark layout evokes the mythical shadow-strewn halls of the gallery that Serling occupied while telling his strange tales and wyrd fictions.

“We intended this as both a tribute to the art, the artists, and the vision of Rod Serling, who continues to inspire us all.”

– Tayler L. White, publisher

Like many fans of the show, I had wrongly assumed that different artists were behind the creative work I had seen in Night Gallery. The various artistic styles on display along with the need to produce work quickly in order to meet television production schedules suggested multiple hands were involved. Not true! Besides Jaroslav Gebr who was responsible for the art seen in the telefilm premiere and the sculptures created by Phil Vanderlei and Logan Elston, all the art that hung in the Night Gallery was made by one man.

Thomas J. Wright was the singular artistic force behind most of the art seen in the series. Using a variety of mediums including acrylics, oils, watercolors and pen and ink, Wright created nearly 200 unique paintings for Night Gallery. Each piece he produced had to tie-in to weekly episodes, but Wright was given complete artistic freedom, which allowed him to follow his own creative impulses.

Thomas J. Wright

Wright learned his craft at the Chouinard Art Institute (now known as the California Institute of Art) and UCLA before he started working in Hollywood where he made production art and storyboards for films including Hitchcock’s Topaz and Robert Wise’s Andromeda Strain. After he was hired to work on Night Gallery, Wright immersed himself in occult research and studied Old Masters from the past who dabbled in the macabre in order to assemble an incredible body of work that explored esoteric themes in a wide array of styles.

When Night Gallery ended Wright continued to work in movies and television but he expanded his artistic reach. Besides production design he started directing and has been involved with many other popular television shows such as Beauty and the Beast, X-Files, Millennium, NCIS and Supernatural. The project he’s worked on often contain esoteric ideas suggesting that you can take the artist out of Night Gallery, but you can’t take Night Gallery out of the artist. Like Rod Serling, Wright remains an important part of television history and is a true visionary in the horror, fantasy and occult art world.

If you would like to purchase a copy of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness you can find it at the official Night Gallery Shop along with some prints of selected pieces available to frame. The publisher is also selling copies in their eBay store.

In a future post I’ll be spotlighting some of my favorite Night Gallery episodes that should be of particularly interest to AstroMagick Lounge readers. In the meantime if you would like to learn more about the series and the new book here are a few recommended links:

Note: This post would not be possible without the kind support of Pike Bishop who gifted me with a copy of the book to review.

Author: Kimberly Lindbergs

Writer, researcher, and artist with eclectic interests.