the peculiar and fantastic art of Edward Gorey

“I just kind of conjured them up out of my subconscious and put them in order of ascending peculiarity.”

—Edward Gorey

…and so starts the “Elegant Enigmas: the art of Edward Gorey” exhibit at The Boston Athenaeum, on through June 4th.

You may recall the aptly-named Edward Gorey’s animation work for the opening credits on PBS’ Mystery! series:

Gorey’s voluminous body of work encompasses art, literature and theater. His influence can be seen hovering over today’s graphic novels, and his appeal is timeless. He shows us how to be Goth and funny…and vulnerable, making us think, laugh and wince at ourselves and our society’s conceptions of what is proper.

In addition to the exhibit’s highly detailed illustrations, which include one-of-a-kind postmarked envelopes Gorey sent to his mother while he studied at Harvard, are his surreal and hilarious writings, which add a vital accompaniment to so much of his artwork:

from the Ghastlycrumb Tinies (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963)

Here is a verse from The Doubtful Guest (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957):

Then they saw something standing on top of an urn
Whose peculiar appearance gave them quite a turn
It joined them at breakfast and presently ate
All of the syrup and toast, and part of a plate
In the night it would aimlessly creep,
In spite of the fact of its being asleep

cover for The Doubtful Guest

More Gorey-isms:

The helpful thought for which you look
Is written somewhere in a book
It’s possible to pick up crumbs
By pressing on them with the thumbs
At twilight objects often start
To make odd sounds and fall apart
The seaweed on the shore cries out
But only it knows what about

“Verse Advice,” The New Yorker, January 11, 1993

always use adverbs sparingly...unless you are masterly like Gorey (The Glorious Nosebleed: Fifth Alphabet, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1975)

While you are at the Athenaeum, be sure to take your big blue visitor’s card and wander around as much as you can on the first floor (the other four floors are off-limits to non-members, although my friend and I did start chatting with one of the librarians, who whisked us away on a secret tour up to the second and fifth floors, which are wonderful indeed). There is a great view out the back windows of the building of the historic and oh-so-terribly-Bostonian King’s Chapel burial ground; but don’t even think about sitting down in any of the comfy chairs by the windows—those are for members only, as well.

If you want to see more, there’s also the Edward Gorey house in Yarmouth Port on the Cape.