- 08 Apr 11
Time to re-discover one of the pre-eminent illustrators of our age...
Should you happen to be in Boston before June, there's an exhibition of Edward Gorey's work at the Boston Athenaeum on Beacon St. It features an amazing collection of famous works, rough drafts and even a selection of intricately decorated letters to the artist's mother.
Born in Chicago, Edward St. John Gorey's first book The Unstrung Harp, an illustrated 64-page novella about the creative struggles of a novelist, was published in 1953. Graham Greene decreed it the best book ever written about a writer.
Over the next 30 years, the Amphigorey anthologies combined gothic comedy, Taoism and surrealism into a macabre, profound and darkly hilarious cosmology. Gorey was no obscure garret-dweller: his work as a book illustrator, set designer and author brought him renown as one of the most distinctive and eccentric artists in the world.
Books like The Doubtful Guest, The Osbick Bird and The Gashlycrumb Tinies are the missing link between Poe, Python and Tim Burton, featuring beautifully detailed pencil illustrations captioned by bizarre haiku.
Some are weirdly existential ("The Tourist huddles in the station/While slowly night gives way to dawn/He finds a certain satisfaction/In knowing all the trains are gone"). Some are wicked ("Little Zooks, of whom no one was fond/They shot towards the roof and beyond/The infant's trajectory passed him over the rectory/And into the lily-chocked pond"). Some are darkly naughty ("They went to the local cinema whenever there was a crime film playing/Following one particularly exciting one, they fumbled with each other in a cold woodshed"). Some are profoundly good-hearted (Dragon And Man Exchanging Gifts). And some are all of the above ("There was once a little girl named Charlotte Sophia/Her only other relative, an uncle, was brained by a piece of masonry/Charlotte Sophia was left in the hands of the family lawyer/Everyday he motored through the streets searching for her...").
And finally, The Osbick Bird, the tale of Emblus and his feathered constant companion, is a meditation on loss and transience that manages to make the observer simultaneously chuckle and weep:
"The top of the zagava tree/Was frequently where they had their tea,
In winter they were both discreet/And wore galoshes on their feet,
And when at last poor Emblus died/The osbick bird was by his side,
He was interred; the bird alone/Was left to sit upon his stone,
But after several months, one day/It changed its mind and flew away."