Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Cat

This is the 500th post to appear on Goreyany. In honor of this milestone, we take a look at Edward Gorey's signature Cats.

Edward Gorey was a lifelong animal lover and was especially fond of cats, who were a source of artistic inspiration and also his constant companions. Mr. Gorey began drawing cats at an early age, and surviving examples from his childhood and teenage years include images of cats. The cat in knit scarf and hat is was drawn when Gorey was 14.

Mr. Gorey's drawing style went through a number of refinements over the the course of his career. Cats that were realistically depicted became more stylized as his artistic talents matured. Gorey’s cats were often exaggerated to convey the personality of the feline he was portraying. There were plump pussys sleeping peacefully, while their less well-fed cousins prowled out of doors looking lean and alert.

Edward Gorey occasionally created realistic and sensitive cat "portraits" such as the well fed and very relaxed Fletcher and Zenobia which adorned the 1980 wedding invitation of friend and Gotham Book Mart employee P. Matthew Monaghan.

In 1970, The Sopping Thursday was published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Gotham Book Mart. In the book, realistically drawn cats and dogs are part of the story and appear in many of the drawings. The publication included a deluxe edition of 26 lettered copies, each accompanied by a piece of original artwork. In this suite of drawings, letters F & H feature realistically drawn cats similar to the felines pictured in the book. Copy V is accompanied by a drawing that includes an alligator wearing a mourning band around one leg and letter E shows a small garden snake draped on an iron fence. Copies B, G, J, K, N, R, X, and Z show a short, stubby, stylized dog in out in the rain. The remaining copies, letters A, B, C, D, I, L, M, O, P, Q, S, T, U, W, and Y show a brand new style of cat that Gorey had not drawn before.

The cat featured in these drawings is a short, vaguely humanoid figure with virtually no tail and a large, human, beak shaped nose. This is a transitional creature, and is Gorey’s first major attempt to anthropomorphize a cat that reads as “cat” but also reads as human. Because of its prominent nose, the creature is vaguely disconcerting rather than cuddly like the dog in the other drawings. This cat is a visual stepping stone towards the the cute feline that will emerge two years later as the Gorey Cat.

The next cat development occurs with Sam and Emma, a 1971 book written by Donald Nelson and illustrated by Edward Gorey (see my post from October 18, 2016). Even though Emma the cat has a rough coat and wears minimal clothing, her facial features and gracefulness have become more recognizably "cat". With Emma, Mr. Gorey has confidently moves one step closer to the feline of his (and our) dreams.

Edward Gorey’s signature “Gorey Cat” bursts onto the scene in 1972 with the publication of Amphigorey, the first anthology of his published works. Gorey has refined and perfected his Cat specifically for Amphigorey. The Cat appears multiple times within the dust jacket design, cavorting amongst the large letters spelling out the title of the volume. This is not an individual cat, but a whole new species of feline that will appear singly and in groups in Mr. Gorey's art for the rest of his life.

The Amphigorey Cat is plump with an unusually large round head. His whiskers are prominent and he has a graceful sense of balance. This Cat has a mischievous expression and is almost always seen wearing clothing - dance leg warmers, a knitted scarf, or (most often) a striped long-sleeved sweater. This cat is always curious and never cross or out of sorts.
To accompany the publication in of Amphigorey in 1972, Gorey produced a deluxe edition of 50 copies each of which is slipcased, signed and numbered. As he did with the deluxe edition of The Sopping Thursday, each of the fifty copies was issued with an original drawing. Every drawing for this series features the Cat - each drawing was numbered to match the number of the book it accompanied. In 1974, the drawings were published as Categor y.

After its introduction in this publication, Edward Gorey continued to draw the Amphigorey Cat for the rest of his life. Gorey rarely drew realistic felines from this time forward, preferring his playful pussy which was capable of astonishing feats of balance, dance and levitation. The Amphigorey Cat became a favorite character and appeared in multiple publications including the covers of each Amphigorey anthology. In his imaginative illustrations for T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the Amphigorey Cat takes center stage. Amphigorey Cats also appear on New York City Ballet merchandise, his fine art pieces for the Graham Gallery Exhibitions, and as bookmarks and postcards made for Gotham Book Mart. The Cat also was brought to life as a three dimensional bean bag animal and a plush stuffed toy.

When someone mentions an Edward Gorey cat, the Amphigorey Cat is the cat they are talking about.

1 comment:

BeckoningChasm said...

Congrats on 500 entries!

The AmphiGorey Cat is one of Mr. Gorey's friendliest creations. You can never imagine that cat becoming frightening. In fact, I would say that cat has probably been a "gateway" character into Mr. Gorey's works. It's so friendly and beguiling, naturally you'd want to take a peek inside the book.

(NB: Amphigorey was the first book I'd ever purchased by Mr. Gorey. In fact, it was the first time I'd ever heard of him.)