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Intro. by Karen Wilkin
Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey
showcases an array of Gorey's work and examines how his varied references shaped his unparalleled aesthetic and macabre wit. Art historian Karen Wilkin, who penned the text and published two other books of Gorey's, gathers a far-reaching scope of his influences — a "conflation of Victorian and Edwardian eras, with occasional notes of the Roaring Twenties" — without being heavy-handed.
To look at Gorey's drawings is to be delighted, though there is an underlying je-ne-sais-quoi of disquiet. His pastiche universe is peopled by men with epic mustaches cloaked in dapper suits or heavy fur coats, women in Paul Poiret-esque dresses and feather-trimmed hats, smartly-dressed children and unfamiliar creatures bred from his imagination. They're wildly appealing, yet their theatrically black-rimmed eyes and solemn mouths evoke a shadowy malaise.
There is an almost photographic approach to the way Gorey frames his drawings, a minimalism that is incredibly suggestive: eyes peeking out of a window; a body on the floor shown only from the ankles. Words in two-line verse imbue the drawings with a more sinister feeling than the seemingly naive etchings. Since all debauchery occurs off-stage, what is conjured is hard to put one's finger on: Gorey's "deployment of ellipsis and non sequitur can create dreamlike sequences in which logic is elastic". A mood of intrigue is elicited rather than a concrete narrative. Recurrently, children are faced with uncharacteristic darkness, encountering perverse crimes or instigating wicked mischief themselves; adults engage, elliptically if still perceptibly, in kinky sexual escapades and morbid acts of violence. Innocence blurs with ghastliness, though never veering into gruesome territory.
The tone is equal parts Henry Darger (gorgeously depicted but troubling child-adult relationships), Saul Steinberg (incredible humor with an effortless line) and fashion illustration from the 20s (it's striking that no one has made a collection based on his devastatingly chic sketches). Whatever comparisons can be made, Gorey is ultimately, purely himself as an artist. From the finely hewn herringbone trousers to the intricate patterning of the wallpaper, Gorey's delicacy with a line exhibits the care of a pointillist with each iota-sized dot.