Gorey bites

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on April 13, 2018 Published on April 13, 2018

For a whole week, starting last Thursday, I’ve been in West Hartford, CT with my sister and family. During this time, we’ve celebrated Easter, had three days of snow and eaten far too much yummy food. What more can we do to make my stay enjoyable, you might wonder? Well, the answer is, Go See A Retrospective Of Artist And Master-Illustrator Edward Gorey’s work.

My sister, niece and I do just that. The show is called ‘After Dark’ and is on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, in Hartford. We attend the opening of the show, which is in one of the central courts, with a buffet and DJ. Walking through the first two rooms of the museum is like entering a hall of visual delights. There’s a three-dimensional exclamation point on one side, an extremely life-like sculpture of a reclining sunbather on the other, Andy Warhol self portrait directly in front and all manner of odd and interesting sights in every other direction.

We hear joyfully raucous music thumping up ahead and when we look through the glass doors, we see two 12-foot tall skeletons jiving to the beat! The energy of the music draws us to the courtyard. We help ourselves to the light but tasty food as we enjoy the spectacle of two young men wearing the tall skeleton puppets circulating amongst the visitors. Some people dance with the grinning bone-giants while others take selfies. On the walls there are works by a number of old friends such as Marc Chagall and Rene Magritte and a number of soon-to-be-new friends such as Kara Walker and Mark Dion.

When we can tear ourselves away from the skeletons and the food, we go to the upper floor to see the Edward Gorey collection. The artist is best known for his marvellous black-and-white drawings of gothic-comic scenes. Gloriously detailed in fine line cross-hatching, Gorey’s world is populated with wry monsters, sardonic children, animated foliage, brooding architecture and a vast assortment of elegantly-dressed eccentrics. In addition to the drawings there are objects, costumes and props from Gorey’s many-faceted professional career, including miniature books, atypical playing cards and tiny gargoyles shaped into jewellery.

The final event of the evening is a screening of the 1979 movie Dracula starring a very young Frank Langella. The connection? In 1978 Gorey designed a Broadway production of Dracula in which the five sets were 3D versions of his black-and-white drawings. It was a clever, polished and highly entertaining production, starring Langella in the flesh. Best of all, my sister and I saw it all those many years ago! Totally loved it.

The film doesn’t have Gorey’s drawings to lift it out of the typical gloomy-doomy atmosphere of Transylvanian dramas. But Langella’s smouldering good looks seduce us anyway. We saunter out into the cold night air giggling and shivering, shaking stray bats and popcorn out of our silken scarves.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on April 13, 2018
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