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My first exposure to Edward Gorey was his animated introduction for the PBS series Mystery. The Gothic sensibility of his artwork appealed to my misanthropic tendencies, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Gorey draws from the romance of the Victorian era and the Jazz Age to create stories full of mystery, satire, and a sly, sinister wit. This is the world you can explore at “Elegant Enigmas,” an exhibition featuring about 180 Gorey works on view until December 29th at the Portland Public Library.
Don’t ask me why I waited so long to see this exhibition.
There is an impressive amount of works on display, including drawings, watercolors, sketches, and ephemera. The richness of the exhibition gives an impression of the depth of Gorey’s creativity. He was not only an illustrator and author, but also a costume and set designer for the theater. Many of Gorey’s colorful and unique costumes for the Mikado are on view, as well as a few watercolors of set designs for the production. Japanese art and culture were among his many inspirations, and the Mikado drawings speak to that.
Original pen and ink drawings of his most well known works are a joy to see. A study for the cover of The Gashlycrumb Tinies shows that he was initially unsure of what to call this particular creation. The drawing bears the moniker “The Something Tinies.” So charming!
It was also a delight to discover some works that even I hadn’t known about before seeing this exhibition, like The Jumblies and The Dong With the Luminous Nose, poems by Edward Lear that Gorey illustrated.
The exhibition also features a few of Gorey’s sketchbooks, envelopes he covered with whimsical illustrations, plush fabric frogs that he sewed, an album cover he illustrated, and more little mementos. It’s so nice to get a glimpse into Gorey’s process, and how his work spilled into other aspects of his life.
Gorey’s technical proficiency is clear, with macabre and beautiful scenes rendered in delicate pen strokes. But what has always drawn me to his work is his wondrous way with words and how he laces intelligent verses with a strong dose of humor. His stories and illustrations transport me to a place of wistfulness, nostalgia, and secrets.
I never thought I would have the opportunity to see Gorey originals, so this was very special. Those who love his work will be overjoyed, and those who don’t certainly will become Gorey groupies after seeing this exhibition. Go now before it’s too late!