BC-US–Art-Gorey Details,0609

Edward Gorey exhibition combines humor and dread

AP Photo PAMR101, PAMR102, PAMR103


Associated Press Writer

CHADDS FORD, Pa. (AP) – In Edward Gorey’s world, malevolent forces hover around Edwardian mansions, fashionable people cluster uneasily in drawing rooms and scores of tiny tots come to unspeakable ends – all narrated with dispassion and illustrated with macabre pen and ink drawings.
The work of Gorey, artist, author and award-winning costume designer, is celebrated in “Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey” at the Brandywine River Museum in suburban Philadelphia. The first traveling exhibition of Gorey’s work, it features 180 drawings, sketches, notebooks and other items.
Gorey wrote dozens of books ostensibly for children with titles like “The Glorious Nosebleed,” “The Fatal Lozenge” and “The Haunted Tea-Cosy: A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas.” He sometimes pops up as a character in his own work, dressed in a gigantic beaver coat that hangs in a case in the exhibition.
The artist is perhaps best known for the satirical animation that opens the long-running PBS “Mystery” series. A lady swoons on a wall as mustached men in bowler hats creep by a mansion on a dark night. Later, conversation in a drawing room is hushed by the sound of shots as a body sinks into a lake outside – and a trench-coated detective writes it all down.
Gorey can tell truly ghastly stories, such as the mutual destruction of “The Deranged Cousins” or the child-killing career of “The Loathesome Couple,” but with an impartial narration that keeps the chills at bay. In a 1996 interview for a retrospective of the “Mystery” series, he said he didn’t consider himself a horror writer like Stephen King.
“Only very occasionally do I try to shock in a mild sort of way,” he said. “I’m very squeamish, really.”
“The Gashlycrumb Tinies” seems anything but squeamish as it details the dispatch of children from “Amy who fell down the stairs” to “Zillah who drank too much gin.” Tiny Basil looks over his shoulder apprehensively at gigantic bears readying an “assault” on him, Maud waves her arms as she is “swept out to sea” on a raft, and Neville, eyes peeking out of an enormous window, completes that couplet by dying of “ennui.”
Gorey’s popularity with children may seem odd considering the rough time they have in his work. And when youngsters do prevail, it’s bad news for someone else; the little heroine of “The Tuning Fork,” tormented by her family, throws herself into the sea but meets an obliging monster that kills them one by one.
Sometimes straight nonsense takes over, as in the rhyming story of “The Osbick Bird” that came to live with one Emblus Fingby. “The Doubtful Guest” proves to be a large hairy bird-beaked creature, dressed in tennis shoes and a flowing scarf, causing a stir at the breakfast table by biting off part of its plate besides the toast and syrup.
Gorey also illustrated works of other authors, including Herman Melville, and won a Tony for costume design for the 1978 revival of “Dracula.” Asked to assess his work four years before his death in 2000, he acknowledged “an ardent little following” but called himself only a very minor celebrity.
“My name turns up in a review of a book or something where they say it’s very ‘Edward Goreyish” or something like that,” he said. “That happens often enough, so I feel I’ve made a tiny mark somewhere.”
The exhibit runs through May 17 before moving to the McNay Museum of Art in San Antonio June 19 to Sept. 12 and the Orlando Museum of Art next year.

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