Reading Museum recently welcomed its brand-new exhibition ‘In the Company of Monsters: New Visions, Ancient Myths,’ featuring artwork that deals with mythology from ancient Greece and Rome.

For a society encapsulated by the weird, wonderful, and freakish, the works of Eleanor Crook, Paul Reid, and Micheal Ayrton delve into the bizarre, and frequently uncomfortable, world of mythical monsters.

The exhibition displayed carefully selected paintings and sculptures that focussed on each artist’s muse at the time. I first turned to Paul Reid, a realist who used oil on canvas.

His piece ‘Odysseus on the Island of Circe’ struck me. In this episode of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, the witch Circe turns the hero’s crew into pigs and throws them in a pigsty at the back of her palace.

As a student of the ancient classics, I had pawned over the pages of The Odyssey many times, but I hadn’t once imagined the chapter in this way.

Reid chose to depict Odysseus’ men as half pig, half human hybrids, with the bodies of men and the heads of swine.

The effect was monstrous. The intertwining of the human form with the grotesque rang true to the exhibition’s title ‘In the Company of Monsters’.

I next turned to Micheal Ayrton’s etching series. The minotaur was a popular myth among the artists, but I was particularly evoked by his concept of revealing the monster’s past.

In one piece we see the bull/man as a calf, his mother Demeter coaxing him with an angular ‘toy’.

Ayton’s sculptures were also interesting, like his study of Demeter pregnant with the minotaur, the edges of the creature’s contorted body suggested beneath her protruding stomach.

As opposed to the maybe more traditional art forms from previous artists, Eleanor Crook presented a more modern take on the creatures of ancient mythology.

Her haunting images of the underworld were especially provoking, the figures appearing as alien, skeletal forms. Dark colours were used to create a sense of foreboding, with fiery reds and oranges used to represent the depths of hell.

Even more impressive was her use of AI imagery to imagine popular classical myths, like a fossilized minotaur and a solid gold queen of Midas.

Her image of the sunken boatman Charon seems strikingly accurate, with modern technology providing us with a realistic image of the ferryman.