Thursday, June 28, 2012

more edward gorey — in book form

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey is the catalogue accompanying the show currently on display at the Norton Museum of Art is the perfect companion piece to the detailed and whimsical world of Gorey. According to the essay by curator and critic Karen Wilkin, Gorey thought of himself as a writer first. Or, he stated on occasion, a person. But artist, no matter the evidence on display at the Norton and in this catalogue, of his terrific talents, was never the first word he used to describe himself.

Edward Gorey, Untitled
Untitled, no date. there's a lot going on in this picture ...
The fabulous drawings, full of intricate cross-hatching certainly belie this. The stylized people of a bygone era — its never exactly clear exactly what time zone they inhabit — are always frozen in the midst of something about to happen, or that has just happened, usually conveniently, and possibly violently, just out of the picture. Little details that inhabit the background of a landscape or the shadows of a drawing room are frequently mysterious, but always compelling. The exhibition at the Norton provided magnifying glasses at appropriate intervals, and one would also come in handy while studying the reproductions in the catalogue, as one can spot frequently a small object like a card on the floor, or a face outside a window that demands closer inspection.

Gorey would start with the words first, and the images would come later. He would sometimes use reams of paper to get the words just right, and the catalogue showcases examples of his variations on text and accompanying doodles for many of his books, including The Osbick Bird, which he called alternately a "woshbosh" "jub jub" "scramble" and "fibbul" bird before deciding on "osbick." Gorey adored wordplay and anagrams and even published some of his books using anagrams of his name: Ogdred Wery, Mrs. Regera Dowdy, and Wardore Edgy, to name a few.

Apart from describing Gorey's love of cats and his omnivorous interest in books and popular culture, there isn't too much in the accompanying essay about Gorey the man, or his daily life. He loved ballet with a passion and lived in Massachusetts. His love of Buster Keaton and silent films informs his enigmatic black and white drawings and his intertitle-like text. He may or may not have intended his work to be enjoyed by children. Perhaps appropriately, Gorey the person comes off as ambiguous and cryptic as his drawings.

The man and (some of) his cats
"After it had passed, Lord Wherewithal was found crushed beneath a statue blown down from the parapet."
The Secrets: Volume One, The Other Statue, 1968.
For anyone who is unable to see the touring show, which started at the Brandywine Museum in Pennsylvania and has been making its way across the country, this book is a wonderful introduction to his work. But once one has been introduced to Mr. Earbrass or any of the unfortunate tykes featured in The Gashlycrumb Tinies it will become necessary to check out more of Edward Gorey's work. He did much more than just the clever animation that appears at the beginning of PBS's Mystery series. This book is a good place to start.
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