Edward Gorey

Edward Gorey
Perhaps you’ve seen his unforgettable drawings in the introductory animation for the PBS Mystery! series (animated by Derkek Lamb); perhaps you’ve seen one or more of his over 75 published books; or perhaps you’ve somehow encountered stray examples of his wonderfully eccentric pen drawings, filled with enigmatic figures in long coats or longer dresses, as likely to hold a knife as a croquet mallet (though either could be equally suspicious of being a murder weapon), and children of questionable intent and even more questionable future; and, of course, perhaps you’re already a devoted Edward Gorey fan.

Gorey himself was something of an enigmatic figure, considered eccentric by some, with a perhaps undeserved association with grim, morbid or horrorific work, when in fact his work has always been whimsical, with just a twist of macabre humor.

Gorey’s wonderfully retro drawing style, at times spare, but often filled with luxurious swaths of pen and ink texture, lends itself perfectly to his off-kilter view of the world and the charming denizens with whom he populates it.

His small, utterly charming and disarming picture books (which you may or may not consider children’s storybooks, depending your thoughts about books in which terrible things happen to the children involved), are wonders of wordcraft as well as spellbindingly drawn. The seemingly simple haiku-like captions make you pause, and pause again, while a slow motion laugh arises, ghost-like, from the bottom of your brain pan and finds its way to your mouth as you stare.

Gorey is sometimes associated with Charles Adams, the two were acquainted and shared the same literary agent as well as admiration for each other’s work. An association I like to make is with the wonderfully off-kilter cartoons of B. Kliban, who I’m certain must have been influenced by Gorey, (as he was by Saul Steinberg), and who, in turn, was a prime influence on the Far Side’s Gary Larsen (along with Gorey, Adams and Gahan Wilson – it all comes around, folks).

Gorey said his fascination with the macabre began at age 5 when he discovered Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was “scared to death” and began to teach himself to draw. Though he worked in Doubleday’s art department for years, his own book ideas were rejected by publisher after publisher until The Unstrung Harp made it to press and began a string of successful titles.

He later did set designs for the Broadway version of Dracula, in which the entire sets were large reproductions of his pen drawings, intricately detailed castle interiors and drawing rooms; and entirely black and white, except.. one object in each set was brilliant blood-red.

You can now buy a fold-out and fold-up toy book version of the sets as Edward Gorey’s Dracula: A Toy Theatre: Die Cut, Scored and Perforated Foldups and Foldouts.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a major repository of Gorey’s work on the web, so I’ve gathered some scattered resources below, though most of them are not representative of his best work..

If you haven’t exposed yourself to Gorey’s brain-tweaking and eye delighting books, I might recommend Amphigorey, an inexpensive collection of several of his small books (which was followed by several other collections in similar format). There are, of course, many other titles.

If you live within reach of Southeastern Pennsylvania, you can still catch a terrific show of Gorey’s originals, Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey, at the Brandywine River Museum until May 17, 2009. (Here is a review of the show, and background about Gorey, from the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

The Edward Gorey House, in his former home in Yarmouthport, MA, is open to the public on a regular basis.

Addendum: Michael Connors of Morguefile has written to add this link to reproduction of Gorey’s Gashleycrumb Tinies, his “Alphabet Book” (delightful!).


William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision

William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat
Sin and Salvation: William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision is the title of a show of the artist’s paintings, drawings, engravings, photographs and other items (64 objects) opening on June 14 at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts.

Hunt is one of the three principle founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and along with Sir John Everett Millais, one of my two favorite Pre-Raphaelite painters.

Hunt and Millais imbued their canvasses with brilliant color of almost impressionistic intensity, but restrained within a precise realism that strove to be faithful to nature. Their art was meant to be closer in spirit to medieval art than to the classical compositions and formal poses of the Renaissance, which they saw as exemplified by Raphael, in which nature was sublimated to formal aesthetics; hence the characterization of themselves as “Pre-Raphaelites”.

I wrote an article about William Holman Hunt previously, in which I talked about my admiration for the brilliant, jewel-like quality of his paintings, as in the small but intensely beautiful painting of Isabella and the Pot of Basil that is in the Delaware Art Museum.

The show at the MIA was organized by the Art Gallery of Toronto ad the Manchester Art Gallery in the UK, and borrows heavily from the latter museum’s excellent collection.

The painting shown above, The Scapegoat (large version here) is not in the show, though an alternate version of the same subject, is which the composition features a rather striking rainbow, will be on display.

Sin and Salvation: William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts June 14 to September 6, 2009.

[Via Art Knowledge News]


MicroVisions 4 Auction

MicroVisions 4 Auction: Michael Whelan, Francis Vallejo, Greg Ruth, Luis Royo
As I mentioned in my article last month about the MicroVisions 4 auction in support of the Society of Illustrators Scholarship Fund, the auction of several small original pieces by top science fiction and fantasy illustrators is now in progress.

You can find additional details in Irene Gallo’s MicroVisions auction article on Tor.com.

The small size of the works (5×7″, 12x17cm) allows for an entry point for acquiring works by these artists that is lower than their larger work, which usually goes for amounts beyond the reach of a casual collector.

The MicroVisions auction itself is through eBay. As of this writing the auction has 4 days, 5 hours and a few odd minutes to run.

(Images above, left to right: Michael Whelan, Francis Vallejo, Greg Ruth, Luis Royo)


The Virtual Paintout

The Virtual Paintout: Amsterdam, Phil Holt, Sharon Williamson, Carol Morgan, Bill GuffeyKentucky artist Bill Guffey has come up with a great idea for a Virtual Paintout, in which participants use Google Maps Street Views as the subjects for paintings in traditional media.

Guffey actually talked with the Google Maps team and received their approval to the idea of creating paintings from Google Maps Street Views and selling them. The only caveat is that if the original source photographic view is shown along with the painting, that credit be assigned for the photograph (Google logo and copyright visible in the photograph). There is no claim of restriction on the paintings themselves.

This addresses the issue with using photographs by others as source material for artists, in that photographs themselves can be works of art, and are copyrightable.

The issues there are somewhat murky, involving interpretation based on verisimilitude and the legal status of the source photograph. An interesting example of this is the controversy surrounding the use of an AP photo for Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster of Barack Obama, and the subsequent suit by the AP.

The OK by Google over use of their maps photography for paintings obviates the issue of permission in individual cases where paintings are made using traditional media (though I’m sure that digital manipulation of the source photographs to make a digital work is another issue entirely).

Guffey, who has been using Google Maps Street views in a series of this own paintings, such as his State Series, realized that this opened the door to a Virtual Paintout, using Google Maps views of a particular place as the theme to create a virtual version of a traditional paintout gathering.

This is in some ways similar to the themed group painting and blog posting projects like Karin Jurick’s Different Strokes from Different Folks, in which the source inspiration is a single photograph (see my posts on Different Strokes from Different Folks and Different Strokes from Different Folks Portrait Swap).

Previous Virtual Paintout locations included Baltimore and Seattle. The most recent completed Virtual Paintout location was Amsterdam, from which I’ve pulled a few examples at left (top to bottom: Phil Holt, Sharon Williamson, Carol Morgan, Bill Guffey).

The new, current Virtual Paintout location is Paris (ah, Paris!). This one starts now and runs to the end of May. The blog post provides a map and a link to the larger original map on Google. You would use the latter to access Street View.

If you haven’t used Google Street View before, prepare to be amazed. On the full size map, drag the small icon of a person from the upper left view control bar into the image to see a street view from that location. Mouse across the image to rotate the view or look up and down. Move the figure in the inset map to move the view, or click back on the minus sign in the upper left to pull back to map view.

Find a location you like, perhaps take a screenshot for further reference and start painting. (Are there any views in central Paris that are not potential views for a painting?) There are more complete instructions, including how to submit your painting to the Virtual Paintout blog, in the blog’s right hand column.

You can see more of Guffey’s own work, much of which has a painterly plein air feeling, even when painted from Street View photographs, on his blog and web site.