Edward Gorey in Portland, Maine!
I am pleased to take a few moments to remind folks of the opportunity afforded them by the current Edward Gorey exhibition showing at the Portland Public Library here in Maine. A longtime fan of Gorey’s artwork myself, I would hate to find out that any of you had missed out on this chance to see his work here in Maine – a definite rarity!
NOTE: Any image below can be clicked upon to see a larger version for more detail.
But here ends the Edward Gorey trail in Maine, until now.
The show is phenomenal, a once in a lifetime chance to be able to see almost 200 original pieces by this master of the pen stroke, as well as some of the published results collecting those endeavors. I have done my best to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, a gift from the show sponsors to those of us living here, and have visited the show almost a dozen times so far. Even with that many visits under my belt, I have yet to look at everything on display!
Although the Lewis Gallery is not gigantic, it is a pretty good size, and many of Edward Gorey’s pieces are intimate in size. They are made to engage the viewer. In fact a friend who works as a security guard at the exhibit describes the inevitable process of looking at the Gorey show. People come in, scan around the room casually, strolling along the rows of framed artwork. Then one of the pieces catches their eye. They stop. They step closer. They step even closer. Slowly, they begin to bend nearer and nearer to the piece, until their nose is only inches from the glass. He tells me this sequence of events is almost inevitable.
My own relationship as a fan of Edward Gorey’s work began with the arrival of the series of John Bellairs books mentioned above, given to me as a Christmas gift by a family friend who was also a librarian. The stories were spooky yet I was unable to stop reading them. A few years later, someone else gave my family a copy of his pop-up book, The Dwindling Party. I was fascinated by the macabre storyline of family-outing-gone-wrong and the way it was paired with the playful pop-up book format. It perplexed and amazed my pre-teen mind. But it wasn’t until I began making my own art that I really began to explore Gorey’s work.
|Set design for Giselle, Act II|
Which makes it all the more shocking that someone might say dismissively, “I’ve always thought of him as an illustrator, not as an artist,” when Gorey was so much an artist that he lived his art, with gusto, aplomb, flair, and a curious passion. This is evident in his sketchbooks, four of which are included as part of the exhibit.
|Early ideas for the Gashlycrumb Tinies|
His finished work is as prolific as his ideas were, totaling to over 100 published books and projects within his lifetime. This exhibit showcases everything from early concept sketches to finely finished pieces, as well as some examples of the final printed products that resulted from his projects. Viewers will also be pleased to see early versions of cover art for some of his books.
In addition to this, he designed sets and costumes for countless theatre productions, some of which are also on display, and created popular animations and illustrated works for a wide array of artists ranging from Charles Dickens and John Updike to Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells. His hand-illustrated correspondence to his mother and his friends is also present as part of the show, a rare treat indeed.
For a supposedly reclusive person, Edward Gorey was constantly and actively involved in the world around him.
|The mysteries of seaweed!|
Illustration has always struggled against the stigma of not being “art.” It is the subject of what seems at time an eternal debate – it is, after all, one of the Big Questions: What is life? What is art? Why am I here? Where did this paintbrush in my hand come from? I think you will find the answers are purely subjective, in many cases, and gain narrow definition only at the exclusion of other potentials, which is hardly a way to live at all. To paraphrase a friend’s remark, should I feel sad if I am considered to be “only an illustrator”? Only if it turns out I'm a slipshod and artless one, I suppose.
Here’s to living one’s art, and here’s to the folks that are giving us here in Portland a chance to glimpse how the art of Edward Gorey became his.
The show includes approximately 180 original works, including selections from The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, The Unstrung Harp, The Gilded Bat, and other well-known publications, drawn primarily from the extensive archives of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and significant private collections.