Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Andrew Alpern at Home


Renaissance man Andrew Alpern (Architect, Lawyer, Author, Publisher, Collector) is known to fans of Edward Gorey as the publisher of Mr. Gorey's 1980 F.M.R.A. as well as for his extensive Gorey collection which he donated to Columbia University in 2010. The collection was exhibited at the university in 2012. 

New York Magazine features Mr. Alpern in an illuminating article showcasing his Manhattan home, a condo he purchased in 1962 and has lived in for 60 years.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Edward Gorey's Doppelganger

While browsing on line, I ran across this unidentified vintage photo of a gentleman who looked more than vaguely familiar. It is not unusual to do a double take when browsing through old photos, finding someone who looks familiar only to be disappointed on a second look. The man in this photograph bears a striking resemblance to Edward Gorey.

Is this a relative of Edward Gorey's from the past? Probably not, but it is fun to compare the two and speculate on their similarities and differences.


Monday, January 3, 2022

Signals Unused Original Artwork

Beginning in 1992, Edward Gorey produced a series of ten limited edition prints that were sold exclusively through the Signals Catalog. Signals was the merchandise catalog for PBS Public Television and featured many books, t-shirts, puzzles, and other special pieces designed by Mr. Gorey. Some of the items, like the series of limited edition prints, were exclusive to the catalog.
Each of the ten Signals prints were issued in two limited editions: A hand signed and numbered edition, and a hand numbered series with an embossed Edward Gorey signature. Mr. Gorey hand signed the first edition but did not hand number any of the prints in either edition. All ten images created for the Signals series were show stopping images, highly detailed and bursting with interesting characters. While prints #1 - #9 in the series were either square or rectangular and were all black and white images, print #10 was a full color image.

The recent Illustration Art Auction at Swann Auction Galleries (December 16, 2021) sold a piece of original artwork by Edward Gorey intended to be Print #6 in the series. Sold by the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, this is an unusual pen & ink with watercolor. In this piece, Mr. Gorey set up a visual and technical challenge for himself which he abandoned just as he was on the cusp of completing the piece. This piece of art is not in my personal collection.

The image shows a three story home where both the interior and exterior are visible at the same time. Edward Gorey played with cutaway imagery on several occasions, but it appears the complicated nature of this piece got the better of him in the end. Parts of the image representing the interior of the home are left black and white, while floating ribbon-like shapes showing the exterior of the home are watercolored in sepia tones. 
While we do not know Edward Gorey's exact intentions, it could be argued that the black and white areas represent billowing clouds of fog outside the house and that the sepia colored areas are the spaces between the clouds. The fact that the "clouds" reveal an x ray view of the interior of the home is a typical Gorey twist.

This is an intricate, monumentally confusing image, and it is clear that Edward Gorey's watercolor technique did nothing to clarify the scene. In the areas where watercolor is applied, the pen and ink details of the drawing are softened. I believe the choice to blur the details had to be an intentional decision; Mr. Gorey had been combining watercolor with pen & ink on his artwork for over 40 years. The ink chosen for this drawing was clearly water soluble, so that it would blend with the sepia overpainting. In most areas where the sepia has been applied, the softening effect looks intentional, whereas in other areas the blurring obscures the image too much.  

In three places, the area to have watercolor added is indicated but remains unfinished. These areas are clearly outlined on the drawing. In the examples shown above, the left image shows the unfinished areas and the right image shows the same areas, with the missing sepia added.

The unfinished gentleman at the bottom of the artwork could have several interpretations. The image upper left is the unfinished artwork. In the upper right image, just the areas inside the sepia have been filled in. At lower left, the gentleman's entire body has been filled in. This is similar to the burglar escaping the upstairs window; his right leg has been filled in with sepia. Filling in the leg may have been a mistake, but could also be an indication that the burglar's right leg is outside the window frame. 

Another fascinating part of this piece is the swatch of wallpaper design that is taped to the lower corner of the art. On a hand drawn grid, Edward Gorey is experimenting with two layouts for a possible wallpaper design. While this design does not precisely correspond to the wallpaper patterns in the house, it shows the care Mr. Gorey took in the planning stages to create repetitive patterns. Delicately drawn pencil grids are occasionally visible (just barely) throughout the various wallpapers in the house.

We will never know how Edward Gorey intended to fully complete this piece or why he abandoned the image. We can only delight in the archeological nature of this piece of original art; it gives us an "over the shoulder" glimpse into how Edward Gorey approached a large, complicated drawing.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Auction News - A New Record for Gorey Art at Auction

Swann Auction Galleries in New York City held their semiannual Illustration Art Auction on Thursday December 16th. The sale was memorable for the variety and quality of the artwork offered. It also set two new artist auction sale price records. 

The first record came early in the sale for a 1911 masterpiece painting by Edmund Dulac for The Snow Queen which sold for $125,000.00 (hammer price plus buyer's premium). This was followed shortly thereafter by a new record auction price for original artwork by Edward Gorey - $27,500.00 (hammer price plus buyer's premium) for a 1964  pen & ink book cover design for The Dark Beasts, a paperback collection of stories by Frank Belknap Long (this piece has not been added to my collection).

The 7 3/8" x 9 1/4" black and white image (on a 9 1/4" x 11 1/4" sheet) depicting all manner of demons from Hell has an imaginative nightmare quality not often found in Edward Gorey's works. The writhing beasties bare their teeth and claws at one another while fixing their burning eyes on the viewer. The lyrical elegance of the original black and white artwork was somewhat diminished in the final book jacket design due to the addition of a fiery background and masses of blocky white type crowding amongst the creatures.

The nasty Dark Beasts creatures are siblings to the other worldly monsters Mr. Gorey used three years earlier for his 1961 book The Hapless Child. Members of this Hellish family adorn the covers and one hidden monster is hidden in every drawing within the book. In this volume the monsters are more metaphorical than menacing, being silent commentators rather than active participants in unfolding drama.

The Beast's $27,500.00 sale price (hammer price plus buyer's premium) beat the previous record of $22,500.00 (hammer price plus buyer's premium) for a pair of theater drawings sold at Swann in July 2020. 

Along with three other works by Edward Gorey offered at the December 16, 2020 Swann auction, The Dark Beasts was consigned by The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and proceeds from the sale will benefit the Trust's charitable mission statement.


Monday, December 13, 2021

Sondheim Collects Gorey


While Edward Gorey sent signed postcards to fans who wrote to him, Stephen Sondheim answered his fan mail with concise personal letters. I am a Stephen Sondheim enthusiast, but it never occurred to me to write him a letter - nor for that matter did I ever write to Mr. Gorey asking for an autograph. The passing of Mr. Sondheim on November 26th has unleashed an avalanche of memorabilia being shown on social media and also being offered for sale. 

For my birthday this past week, I received what can only be described as a Holy Grail piece of Sondheim/Gorey memorabilia - a personal letter from 2005 wherein Sondheim is thanking a friend for the gift of a Gorey booklet, also mentioning that he has a significant collection of Edward Gorey's early books. 

A newly formed Instagram page focusing on Mr. Sondheim's correspondence recently showed a letter from 1984 to the same recipient as the 2005 letter now in my collection. In this earlier, more formal missive, Mr. Sondheim credits Burt Shevelove with introducing him to Gorey's works (this earlier letter is not in my collection)

I do not know whether Gorey and Sondheim ever met; certainly both were involved with theater successes during the same time period and shared a love of language. A collaboration between the two would have been a fascinating project!

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Mr. Earbrass Delivers Gifts


To celebrate our 42nd anniversary, my husband Bill Campbell once again has surprised me with another Mr. Earbrass toy that he created (to see the toy figure Bill made me last year, Mr. Earbrass Plays Croquet see my post from January 15, 2021 HERE).

Taking inspiration from an Edward Gorey Christmas card image, we find the intrepid Mr. Earbrass in his finest holiday apparel, braving the elements to deliver gifts to his friends. Completely made by hand, this new Earbrass figure is also an old fashioned toy "rocker" that pivots on an interior spring. Bill has been experimenting with this style of toy and Mr. Earbrass bobbles front to back and side to side when touched. Each of the gifts he holds is a small wooden box that Bill created and filled with noise making baubles that rattle when the figure is set in motion. You can also turn the head to face in different directions.


The rocking motion brings the figure to life, giving the impression that Mr. Earbrass is barely keeping his balance on the icy terrain.

The gift giving Mr. Earbrass joins the previous Mr. Earbrass Plays Croquet incense smoker. When Bill sculpted the head for the first figure, he made a mold so he could create multiple heads as needed. 

While photographing the new toy, the camera caught  Mr. Earbrass' theatrical entrance to the proceedings, looking rather like a candy striped ghost from a production of A Christmas Carol in his native Mortshire.  


Monday, November 15, 2021

Gorey Secrets


Gorey Secrets by Malcolm Whyte is a veritable treasure trove of behind the scenes information about the many inspirations and influences Edward Gorey drew upon to create his unique books. Concentrating on more than two dozen volumes written and illustrated by Mr. Gorey, Mr. Whyte goes in depth to explore the origins of ideas, and traces visual imagery.

Perhaps the most astounding bit of detection is the backstory behind The Lost Lions, Or Having Opened The Wrong Envelope, a book Edward Gorey self published in 1973 through his Fantod Press imprint. While I am not going to repeat the backstory here, Mr. Whyte's investigative determination to get to the root of this tale is what makes Gorey Secrets such a pleasure to read.