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Artist Spotlight: Edward Gorey

Best known as an illustrator of vaguely Victorian and morose themed works, Edward Gorey was born in Chicago, 1925. I grew up fairly familiar with the artist – several of his books were on our family’s bookshelves, and my parents were (and are) faithful fans of the PBS program Mystery! Occasionally on Sunday nights I would hear the wailing of an animated woman atop an ink and paper building (see video at 25 seconds), a fine sound to close the weekend.

Gorey crafted the animation for the PBS Mystery! series introduction in 1980, and the work highlights much of what today is considered signature Gorey. The macabre and almost haunted humor of the artist pairs well with the spirit of the program. During his career Gorey’s style was often termed “goth” and his works warmly embraced by the Goth subculture. In reaction to his work being titled “goth,” the artist told The New Yorker in 1992, “If you’re doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there’d be no point. I’m trying to think if there’s sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children – oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that’s true, there really isn’t. And there’s probably no happy nonsense, either.”

Gorey's grim alphabet - as featured in his work "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" (1963).

Gorey’s grim alphabet – as featured in his work “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” (1963).

The artist’s formal training in his craft was limited – he spent only a semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1940s. Later, Gorey would leave Illinois behind him and spend time in New York City, where he worked with Doubleday Anchor as an illustrotor for book covers. The artist became well-known for his own works and artistic style when the Gotham Book Mart featured some of his pieces. In addition to lending his talent to books and his own works, Gorey was also responsible for the decor and costumes behind the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula. The artist was awarded a Tony for his work on costume design. Later in life Gorey purchased a 200 year-old home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he continued to illustrate, but also dived into the realm of puppetry.

Edward Gorey - Artist & Puppeteer. Image: Edward Gorey House

Edward Gorey – Artist & Puppeteer. Image: Edward Gorey House

Gorey died in 2000 at the age of 75. Today, that centuries old home in Cape Cod hosts an Edward Gorey museum, The Edward Gorey House. Open seasonally, the website promises an educational and enlightening look into a masterful, fun, and interesting artist. For those interested in Gorey’s work and not close to Cape Cod, the Loyola University Museum of Art in Chicago is currently presenting “The Art of Edward Gorey,” an exhibition up through June 15. Promising to be full of prints, letters, and unique emphemera, the exhibition looks very interesting. When we make our Illinois tour at the close of May, we’ll have to see if we can squeeze this exhibition into our schedule.

Chicagoans, have you seen this exhibition yet? I’d love to hear what Chicago EMPs think – or if any of the Windy City EMPs had the opportunity to contribute on this neat project.

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