A disheveled creature sporting four horns and a demonic face that's anything but welcoming is the first thing visitors see when they pass through one of the two entrances at Cal State Long Beach's University Art Museum.
His name is The Shape, and those who try to get around him by heading to the other entrance will be met by a red-haired, grotesque elf-like man in a clean white suit named Loughton Candidate.
Things get worse inside thanks to the likes of Surgeon General, a zombie-like figure with a sharp metal jaw and dark goggles who stands under metal chains and the nearby part human, part rat-like snarling creature.
The monsters were created by Gabe Bartalos, who is no Dr. Frankenstein, but a San Fernando Valley-based special effects artist whose work is the focus of the museum's latest exhibit, “Abhorrence and Obsession,” running through Dec. 8.
“This is my first exhibit in a museum setting. I'm very excited about it because I've always looked at the pieces I do as artwork and sometimes you lose that when it's on the canvas of film,” said Bartalos. The 48-year-old has been in the business for nearly three decades, specializing in creating gory characters and prosthetic make-up effects for films and music videos.
“What we're looking at here is pieces over a 25- to 30-year period of sculptures and characters I've created for both film and the art world,” he said.
Bartalos has worked on cult classics such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” “Leprechaun 4: In Space” and the 1998 blockbuster “Godzilla.”
The Long Beach exhibit features 39 pieces created at his Sun Valley studio, Atlantic West Effects, Inc. They cover the gamut from clay sculptures to latex rubber and fiberglass creatures like Loughton Candidate, who appeared in a five-film series called “Cremaster.” The films will be presented at the University Theatre on Oct. 5, 12 and 19 in conjunction with the exhibit.
There are also creations from his own film in the exhibit, like the 2004 flick “Skinned Deep,” which included the Surgeon General. The Shape was a character in a music video for the band Rusty Truck. In the video, the horned demon meets a sweet little lady in her cabin in the woods.
Other pieces include a life-size zombie horse made to look as if it's rotting away, a few severed feet and a bloody zombie emerging from a wall.
“I'm into horror so I was stocked when I saw all this,” said Huntington Beach resident Chris Weller, who was checking out the exhibit on a recent Friday afternoon.
“It's close to Halloween, so I think this is a perfect exhibit to have right now,” he said before snapping a few shots of the exhibit with his phone.
It's the first time the museum has held a show focused on special effects but it fits with the venue's goal of presenting shows that transcend artistic disciplines, said Ilee Kaplan, associate director of the museum.
“It fits in with our mission to present projects that blur the boundaries between visual art, pop culture, technology, science and music,” she said. The detail in the work also makes it worthy of an exhibit, she added.
Bartalos' love of horror films goes back to his childhood in New York as he grew up watching films like “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” “Planet of the Apes” and “The Exorcist.”
His first film was a three-minute short he created as a young boy with his dad's Super 8 camera called “The Bored Boy.” Using things like watercolors, salami, clay and Play-Doh, he slit his wrists, cut out his eyes, carved out his intestines and ate them before he died.
“It was crude but effective,” Bartalos said.
At the age of 16, Bartalos met special effects artist Arnold Gargiulo at a horror convention. An internship at Gargiulo's studio led to film work and an eventual move to California where he opened his studio 20 years ago.
His work now spans many disciplines such as illustration, design and fabrication. But before it scares the heck out of people, much of it begins as clay sculptures.
“I'm first and foremost a sculptor and my medium is clay. I shape it, I model it, then it's molded and fabricated whether in fiberglass or silicone,” he said. “I'm also a painter and a prosthetic artist because I take the pieces to set and I actually apply them to people.”
The exhibit comes just as Halloween approaches and that's good timing for fans of horror who may find inspiration in his work for their own holiday decorations. Most people may not be able to recreate the more complex creatures, but Bartalos said there are little tricks of the trade that can be easily done at home. He said a good way to start is with an essential element of many home horror displays: blood.
Bartalos advises getting clear Karo Syrup and adding red food coloring mixed with a little yellow and blue, then adding some water to thin it out.
But the real secret is to add one tablespoon of zinc oxide, which can be purchased at most pharmacies, with two shots of vodka, and then add the syrup, Bartalos said.
“What it does is make the blood more opaque and you got blood that's meaner looking” he said.
Another tip he offers is to make a fake skull more realistic by using a painting technique called dry brushing. The technique involves painting the skull with a dark earthy color that has been watered down a bit.
“You flood the object with it and then instantly wipe it off. Even if you do your best, that thin paint will get in every deep crevasse, you can't get rid off that,” he said.
That's followed by brushing the skull with white or ivory paint. The contrast between the deep dark areas and lighter paint will turn a cheap Halloween skull into a more realistic piece.
And for those who want to just scare the heck out of some trick-or-treaters with a more minimalist approach, Bartalos offers some advice ,too.
“What if the door opened and you were just a black shape? You can take a hoodie, paint your face and just stand there motionless. Sometimes less is more and the lack of movement is what creeps us all out.”