Friday, May 4, 2018

The Art of Elsewhere

From The New York Review of Books:
Edward Gorey, whose books, theatrical designs, and sundry ephemeral productions are the subject of a brilliant exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum, is among the most recent additions to this curious company. It is a loose-knit cohort, which spans the centuries and includes literary and musical artists as well as visual ones. Two novelists who immediately come to mind are Thomas Love Peacock in the nineteenth century and Ronald Firbank in the twentieth. I would include the sixteenth-century artists Luca Cambiaso, whose geometrized figure drawings fascinated the Surrealists, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who painted heads composed of fruits and flowers for the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. Other candidates include the American painter Florine Stettheimer and the American composer Harry Partch. Each of these men and women refuses to fit easily into any tradition. They’re idiosyncratic aristocrats. When we try to press them into some tradition—perhaps to see Peacock as an embodiment of eighteenth-century conversational conventions or Arcimboldo as a prototypical Mannerist—we rob them of some of their glory. They are nonpareil.

Like the other figures in this elusive group, Edward Gorey may have felt armored in his worldliness, which became a bulwark or a mask behind which he was free to indulge in a vision that is gloriously unworldly or even otherworldly. “He has been working quite perversely to please himself,” Edmund Wilson wrote in The New Yorker in 1959, in one of the earliest appreciations of Gorey’s art. He “has created,” Wilson continued, “a whole little personal world, equally amusing and somber, nostalgic and claustrophobic, at the same time poetic and poisoned.” (Read more.)

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