Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey by Karen Wilkin

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Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey by Karen Wilkin

Category: Art
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A great introduction to a great artist, but only buy this if you can handle the inspiration to buy everything else with his name on.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 124 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Pomegranate Communications Inc
ISBN: 978-0764948046

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I'm all in favour of Edward Gorey becoming a bigger name, especially here in the UK, where his output is certainly less lauded than in his native USA. It's evident from the bright, glossy pages here that he was an extraordinary talent. Polymath and know-all in real life, in his ink drawings he can show the complexity of someone like Dore, while using his draughtsmanship to pen macabre whimsy, like an old-fashioned love-child of Mervyn Peake and Edward Lear.

And like those latter two he shared his talents between written word and artistry, so his own works appear more like picture books for adults - sterling black and white illustrations of a caption or a couplet of verse. He also took on many commissions for book covers, stage designs and more, but still not enough of them are noted enough in Britain. I'm wondering, however, if this book is the best way to help that.

In reality this is a museum catalogue, so we have an erudite and appreciative essay, then eighty fabulous pages of examples of his work. And while they are fabulous, and range suitably across his career, they aren't enough. This is a great advert for Gorey, yes, but don't buy this if you're at all averse to being teased and tantalised, for here is more than enough to make you frustrated for more.

Among the highlights are the illustrated envelopes he used for his letters home from Harvard, never before published. There's enough invention there to suggest the wordless story, and novel in gibberish noises, that followed - if they are very different artworks. The latter can feature a vertiginous detail, with fantastic inking and hatching craft, while his narratives are populated by odd humans, strange buildings, and unearthly creatures from Gorey's imagination.

Death is present too. Here's an alphabet of couplets of children dying, here people cosh and poison each other - but hardly ever in the image, for many of them have a rare stillness you seldom see in such cartoonish pictures. So black is his output though that you begin to wonder how formative his surname might just have been.

And so from death to life, for this book will bring invigoration to his name far beyond the reach of the American exhibition it commemorates. I loved this book for showing us to much of Gorey's brilliance, and showing it to us very well, but I nigh-on hated it for leaving so much out. (If a man illustrated Samuel Beckett, which I'm surprised the Irishman allowed - I want to see the results.) It remains, though, the best advert I have ever reviewed.

I must thank the kind publishers for my review copy.

Buy Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey by Karen Wilkin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey by Karen Wilkin at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey by Karen Wilkin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey by Karen Wilkin at Amazon.com.


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