Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Bell, the Book and the Spellbinder

The Bell, the Book and the Spellbinder by Brad Strickland was published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 1997. Mr. Strickland is pretty much "on his own" at this point in the John Bellairs' book series, but the basic premise for this story was founded on a comment Mr. Bellairs once made to a publisher about an enchanted/magic book that enslaves its reader.

Edward Gorey created a wraparound dust jacket design that features his most colorful rear cover of the series. The lurid orange color used for the background of the tattered poster leaps out at you. Mr. Gorey also created a frontis illustration and several small interior spot illustrations. The frontis drawing may just be his most disturbing illustration from the entire series, and possibly his career. It shows a deceased, dry mouse who still has the power to move due to magic. As the mouse tries to move, it begins to pull itself apart.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fine Art Prints, Part 5 - Confusion Reigns!

Why are some prints by Edward Gorey hand signed and some signed with an embossed signature stamp?

As stated in previous postings, Edward Gorey created a total of 82 Fine Art etchings and collagraph prints. His first collection of six etchings created for Diogenes (discussed in my posting from April 4, 2011) are the only prints that were completed according to proper printmaking procedure. The six Diogenes images were printed as complete runs, numbered, hand signed and offered for sale. For all his subsequent print images, Edward Gorey did not follow proper print making etiquette, which would cause him (and later his estate) many headaches over time.

In order to offer as many images as possible and keep his printing costs manageable, Mr. Gorey decided to print only 10 or 20 impressions of each image against an anticipated total print run of 50 to 95 prints, rather than produce one complete run of an image before moving on to the next. The prints were hand signed and numbered 1/95 through 10/95, and when those ten prints sold, 11/95 through 20/95 were printed and signed - but the entire run of 95 was never printed all at one time.

This system meant that Edward Gorey had to keep a record of the number of prints made to date, so he had a notebook with details on his prints. At one point in the late 1990's, the book was mislaid and all print production came to a halt until the book could be found (it was). The consequence of this system of printing and numbering is that only some of the prints reached their full edition before Mr. Gorey died in April 2000. The editions which were incomplete at the time of Mr. Gorey's death were finished by his estate. These prints are hand numbered, and then signed with an embossed signature stamp. At least one collagraph print run could not be completed because the plate fell apart after the initial prints were pulled (I will discuss this print in a later post).

17 of the 82 print images were never printed during Mr. Gorey's lifetime - the plates were found in Mr. Gorey's home, but no prints had yet been pulled - these were completed by his estate and are referred to as the "Posthumous Prints".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Children in a Museum

In my previous posting, I was saying how nice it was to be in an exhibition where the walls are covered in works drawn by Edward Gorey. This is the kind of exhibition most Gorey collectors dream about. I have a piece of original artwork in which Mr. Gorey has created his own fantasy art exhibition. Given his eclectic tastes in all things, perhaps this is his version of an ideal gallery show.

Children in a Museum is a piece of art originally created for the December 1997 issue of Town & Country Magazine for an article entitled Art Is Fun... Appearing on page 93, the image illustrates an article about the pleasures and problems of taking children to a museum. The article offers advice on how to make the experience pleasurable for both the parent and child, and points out some of the pitfalls that can occur when a child decides to act like a child. In one example taken from an actual experience, the author suggests having opera glasses handy to help spot a child hiding under a bed in a roped off period room.

In the magazine, the image is printed slightly larger than the original artwork, which is 5.75" x 8". This large piece of art is full of great details and wonderfully humorous situations. The gallery pictured also contains one of craziest assemblages of paintings imaginable. The artwork covers periods of art from Renaissance to Modern, and even has time for dessert above the door as you leave the gallery! I am especially fond of the painting of Judith and Holofernes which is delighting the small child and distressing the guardian.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Falling In Love Again

This past Monday, Bill (in red) and I (in green) went to Boston to view the Elegant Enigmas show at the Boston Atheneum. If your Gorey collecting bug is feeling a bit listless, this show is a sure fire cure for the collecting doldrums. Photography was not allowed in the galleries, so the photos show us outside the building.

Entering the exhibition space, we were greeted by several beautifully executed self portraits of Edward Gorey. At first glance, the show seems quite unassuming, being presented in just two rooms. We managed to spend well over an hour and a half studying the original artwork from Mr. Gorey's published books. The art included in the show concentrates on primary books published before 1980, but examples of later titles are included. Organized loosely by publication date, each frame showcases two or more pages from a book. There are several plexi cases with three dimensional objects, unframed artwork, sketches and notebooks.

Pieces like the full color dust jacket design painted for The Broken Spoke stand out because of its size and beautiful colors, but it is the densely rendered black and white drawings which rivet you to the spot in awe and amazement. More than one gallery viewer was overheard to ask, " Is this an etching?" Because the work is so finely detailed, it is almost impossible to believe it is the work drawn by hand.

There are many pieces showing the process Mr. Gorey went through to complete a work of art. It is fascinating to see corrections on the drawings, in some cases artwork is cut in half and a new upper portion is glued to the lower half. Pieces of paper are pasted on top of finished drawings with new lettering or a single word is changed. Viewing the original art gives insight into the thought process involved, which is an aspect unique to illustration art since the art itself is not the final destination, but part of the journey.

Rarely does one see the progression of Mr. Gorey's signature drawing style so clearly displayed. It was unfortunate that there was nothing on display from The Beastly Baby, since this represents some of his earliest work and is very loosely drawn in contrast to the firmer style of his other works. Pieces from The Unstrung Harp and The Listing Attic prepare the way for the masterpiece drawings from The West Wing.

One of the great surprises of the show is a small plexi display case which has just recently been put on display and is not actually part of the exhibition. In this display (located in a room that one stumbles across when heading to the restrooms) are three recent acquisitions by the Atheneum for their permanent collection. They include a hard cover copy of The Black Doll, a stamped sheet of Figbash figures dancing across the page and signed by Mr. Gorey, and the jaw dropping The Sopping Thursday limited edition copy #C/26. This copy includes a piece of original art created especially for this edition (see photo to the right) which features a cat standing in the rain balancing an umbrella on its paw. The announcement card for this title is included in the display which states that the 26 lettered copies were originally sold by Gotham Book Mart for $75.00 each! Oh, to have a time machine!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fine Art Prints, Part 4

In previous blog entries regarding the prints of Edward Gorey, I have discussed prints made from existing artwork where little or no direct involvement of the artist occurred other than approving and signing the printed images. As we move into fine art prints created by Edward Gorey through the process of etching and collagraphs, the artist (Mr. Gorey) is directly involved in the image making process which results in the final set of prints. These images cannot exist in any other medium because they are a direct result of the process used to create them.

In pure etching, a metal (usually copper, zinc or steel) plate is covered with a waxy ground which is resistant to acid. The artist then scratches off the ground with a pointed etching needle where he wants a line to appear in the finished piece, so exposing the bare metal. The plate is then dipped in a bath of acid, or has acid washed over it. The acid "bites" into the metal, where it is exposed, leaving behind lines sunk into the plate. Once satisfied with the quality of the lines which are now permanently etched onto the plate, the remaining waxy ground is cleaned off the plate.

The artist may now subject the plate to this process again and again to alter the quality of line and tone larger areas of the plate through multiple acid/resist applications. Once the plate has been completed, the artist usually turns over the operation of printing the edition to a master printer (who is usually present throughout the entire process).

The plate is inked all over, and then the ink wiped off the surface, leaving only the ink in the etched lines and areas. The plate is then put through a high-pressure printing press together with a sheet of paper (often moistened to soften it). The paper picks up the ink from the etched lines, making a print. The plate can be printed many times; typically several hundred impressions (copies) could be printed before the plate shows much sign of wear (each impression requires a new layer of ink to be applied). This is a technique which has been used for hundreds of years by artists. Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606 - 1669) is one the most famous artists to embrace etching as an artist technique.

The official list of fine art etchings and collagraphs created by Edward Gorey includes 65 prints made during his lifetime and 17 "posthumous" prints. The posthumous prints are images printed from plates which Edward Gorey completed, but had not yet printed.

Edward Gorey's first set of etchings were distributed by Diogenes Verlag in 1978. The six images were each printed in an edition of 120 signed/numbered impressions. An additional set of twenty impressions were made of each image, each numbered with a Roman Numeral. All prints from this set were hand signed and numbered by Mr. Gorey. While these prints were always sold individually, they can be considered a set of six images.

The images include:
1 - Insect on Unicycle - I am showing print #15/120, above left
2 - Girl with Gymnasium Friend (shown at top of posting, not in my collection)
3 - Baby Transported  - I am showing #119/120, bottom of post
4 - Malocclusion (Teddy Bear on Cliff) - I am showing print #71/120, above right - This is one of my all time favorite Gorey images. "Malocclusion" means crooked or irregular teeth.
5 - Woman Beneath Rolling Elephant (shown small above right, not in my collection)
6 - Child and Elephant Table (shown small above left, not in my collection) - According to research done by Rick Jones, director of the Edward Gorey House, the common title for this print, Baby Seated Under Rolling Elephant is incorrect. The correct title appears in the original Diogenes brochure for the set of prints.

These six prints can be fairly difficult to acquire, and consequently tend to be somewhat expensive.