This guy scares me. The talent is immeasurable, beyond anyone's wildest dreams. I saw one of his original black and white illustrations on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and it blew me away. I have never again seen anything so clean and controlled, a masterpiece of craftsmanship.
His subjects scare me, too. For the most part, they are grim and seem driven to hysteria. But then they are exquisitely rendered. I'll get to his landscapes which are thankfully beautiful and not unsettling, but for now I'll begin with the man himself, in an undated photo of him at work, probably in the early 1930s.
Spartan digs for the painter who sits on what looks to be an old thumb-back kitchen chair. Click on images to enlarge them.
Rockwell Kent, Portrait of me (improved) 1923
Rockwell Kent, self portrait, lithograph, 1934
This is rendered in a style I'll call Deified Fascist (for want of a better name) reminiscent of portraits and busts of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini produced by and for their admirers. What makes it strange is that Kent was alleged to be an ardent admirer of the Soviet political system.
Rockwell Kent, Thomas Maitland Cleland, Portrait Lithograph, 1929
This was used opposite the title page of The Decorative Work of T.M. Cleland, who was a very famous type designer for the American Type Foundry in the heyday of metal type composition. Also scary.
When I worked and travelled in Europe I was always amazed to see my fellow young male train and plane passengers absorbed in comic books, something unthinkable to imagine their American counterparts doing. The difference is that we were brought up with Superman, Batman, and much worse. I found a bookshop in Nice called La Bande Desinée, French words loosely translated into the English for cartoon strips. It was a revelation and I feasted visually on the virtuosity of truly great illustrators such as Hugo Pratt.
Hugo Pratt was born in Rimini, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, on 15 July 1925. Five years earlier, the great Italian film director, and one-time aspiring cartoonist himself, Federico Fellini was also born in Rimini. Wikipedia describes Pratt as an Italian comic book creator, which is like saying Charles de Gaulle was in the French army. It tells only part of the biographical history of this exceptional story teller and illustrator.
The surname Pratt is of English origin belonging to his paternal grandfather. Hugo spent his childhood in Venice and moved with his Italian mother to join his father Rolando Pratt in Ethiopia in 1937 then an Italian colony conquered by the army of the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. Rolando was captured by British troops and died as a prisoner of war in 1942. In the same year Hugo and his mother were also imprisoned but later returned to Italy by the International Red Cross.
Hugo Pratt moved to Argentina in the late 1940s where he drew comics and taught drawing while immersed in the company of fellow Italians and Argentine writers, much influenced by illustrating stories by Héctor Oesterheld. He then moved to London in 1959 where he stayed for a year, then back to Argentina and to Italy in 1962 for more comic book work.
In 1970 the French magazine Pif Gadget began publishing stories of Pratt's most famous character, Corto Maltese.
Maltese, a cult favorite in one of the best European graphic novels, is a
veritable legend in twentieth century literature. He’s a traveler – a
sailor who combines Mediterranean looks with Anglo-Saxon culture. Corto,
meaning “quick” in Spanish, was created in 1967 by Hugo Pratt, a native
of Venice. Corto is an anti-hero who prefers his freedom and
imagination to wealth. He is a modern Ulysses who takes us traveling to
some of the most fascinating places in the world.
100 years ago there seemed to be a fine line between fine art painting and illustration. Some illustrators were better painters and some painters better illustrators. Many such examples are found throughout this blog. None straddled that narrow divide better than George Bellows.
George Bellows, self portait, lithograph, 1921
George Bellows was only 42 when he departed this life in 1925, a towering figure of the American art world. He personified the transition between the art of the Victorian era and that of the modern, for that time in history. For more, please click on this link.
Stag at Sharkey's (Cleveland Museum of Art), 1909 (Cleveland Museum of Art)
[Daughter] Lady Jean, 1924
A painting by George Bellows of his father, also named George, who was born circa 1829 in Sag Harbor on the eastern end of Long Island, New York.
Date of painting unknown.
Lucie, July 1915
I'm purporsely ending it here so that you can absorb this enchanting portrait of a beautiful young lady, as well as those just above. I'll add more spectacular examples of his genius very soon.
Blue Snow,The Battery, 1910
Cliff Dwellers, 1913
River Front, No. 1, 1915
Nude with White Shawl, 1919
Emma in the Purple Dress, 1919
[Daughter] Anne in White, 1920
Emma at the Window, 1920
[Daughter] Peerlee, 1924
As a disclaimer and a personal note, I must add that my mentor Harold Irving Smith was a colleague and acquaintance of George Bellows, both having studied with Robert Henri and George Luks in the years before World War I. Harold never failed to sing the praises of Bellows and lament his tragic premature death in 1925 at the young age of 42. According to Harold it was common gossip among their artist friends that Bellows might have been saved by an appendectomy had not his strong-willed wife Emma intervened with alternative health care. I have searched without success for an account of this online.
However, there are many links available to learn more about George Bellows, one of the most accomplished of American painters.
Story by Paul and Lily Giambarba Photography by Paul Giambarba
from CapeArts 6, 1982
MANIPULATED as it by the babbling media, the public often incorrectly identifies its idols. (As if larger-than-life talents really needed tags!) Thus, Ted Williams, undeniably one of the greatest baseball players of all time, becomes known for his reluctance to wear neckties or speak to sportswriters; Marlon Brando for slurred speech and torn tee shirt; Vanessa Redgrave for her politics; Truman Capote for his peevishness; Pablo Picasso for his libido.
A case in point is Edward Gorey, whose prodigious output of marvelous work - nearly 50 complete books, more than 60 illustrated books, and countless illustrated articles [ this was published in 1981- Ed.] - is probably admired for reasons tangential to its greatness.
Because the macabre in Gorey's drawings seems almost incidental. It just happens to be his milieu, the way he plays his music. How he actually draws is important, for the way he puts a picture together is what's really remarkable. Others may do illustrations and sketches, but you can put a frame around almost any of Gorey's drawings. They are complete in and of themselves. Gorey's ability to create a picture and fill it with life - even the languid, half-life his characters seem to lead - is what separates every major artist from the pretenders and mannerists.
In the select and impressive work of illustrated American literature he has few peers. There have been great American writers - most of whom are well-known - and great illustrators, of whom Howard Pyle (1853 - 1911) is the most famous, remembered for his Book of Pirates, King Arthur, and Robin Hood. Pyle created a world of his own: castles and knights, damsels and dragons, fierce buccaneers and sultry wenches, from a fertile imagination and brilliant draftsmanship.
Howard Pyle has his counterpart of today in Edward Gorey. But where Pyle achieved godlike status in his own time, founding a school of illustrators (who preached his gospel - of drawing from the draped model and attending to minute detail - for over 50 years in the publishing world) Edward Gorey works secluded in a large, rambling house in the village of Barnstable along Cape Cod's northern shore. He has founded no school of illustrators and has encouraged few imitators.
Gorey's work is inimitable because of its precise mix of wit and skill, its difficult-to-achieve but nevertheless perfect proportion of physical and intellectual virtuosity. Sublimely transcending the mundane reality of printing ink on paper, the meticulously drawn crosshatch and line work of his black-and-white renderings and impeccably hand-lettered text are surpassed only the outrageous names of characters and places that surface through the tight order of Gorey's work.
The Turnip Valley Express
West Elbow and Penetralia
The Halfbath Methodist Church
Weedhaven Laughing Academy
Miss Underfoot's Seminary
and even The Abandoned Sock.
But those who would Expect Edward Gorey to exhibit in a personal way some of the macabre and unfathomable mannerisms of his characters - hoping to glimpse him lurking about headstones under a full moon, or pulling the wings off flies - are certain to be disappointed. He is, as he looks, amiable and pleasant.
A large man of middle age and obvious good nature, Gorey bears a physical resemblance to one of the English kings at the beginning of the [19th] century, and who, with the proper make-up and padding, would make an admirable Saint Nicholas (not to be confused with Santa Claus!) of the same era. While his drawings are full of ominous, hirsute, and dark-eyed males of imposing proportions, or gangly men with sandy hair and coiled mustaches in formal attire, Gorey is far more likely to be found in Levis and sneakers. And a far cry from the habitues and haunts of his dissipated characters, Gorey can usually be seen in the glare of noon hunched over a table of a local ice cream establishment [Turner's on West Main Street, Hyannis, no longer in business], specializing in sundaes, reading a paperback and lunching on such innocuous fare.
He drives an old Volkswagen, wears a vintage raccoon coat in the chill of winter, and sports a reasonably inconspicuous gold earring at all times. And at home, when he's not out visiting relatives and friends, he lives constantly surrounded by an assortment of ginger, ginger-and-white, and black-and-white cats who threaten one another, bound off the fireplace mantles, and persistently nibble all the dried flower arrangements in sight.
Gorey, a transplanted Midwesterner, was born in Chicago in 1925. After graduating from high school in 1942, he served in the United States Army as a company clerk at the infamous Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. After an honorable discharge from the Army following World War II, Gorey enrolled at Harvard under the G.I. Bill, where the courses he liked best were in Italian history, particularly of the Renaissance and Risorgimento periods. But it's hard to tell what influences from his life predominate in Gorey's work, unless, of course, they're from his voluminous reading. Isobel Grassie [a friend and collector of Gorey's work, since deceased], herself an inveterate reader - and Gorey fan, par excellence - got to know him first as a customer at a book shop [Parnassus Book Service] in Yarmouth Port where she works.
Says Grassie, "He reads more than almost anyone I have ever known. And he reads in many, many areas, particularly British and American novels - early ones - but also other things as well. If he draws a glove, it's the right glove for the period for that kind of person. It's not just any old glove. You don't know it, and I don't know it, but he does." Grassie explains that she was a Gorey fan before she met him, though. "I was a fan before I moved to the Cape (in 1965) from Cohasset [a sea side suburb south of Boston]. I had seen one of his first books, The Willowdale Hand Car, and I loved his work. He writes so beautifully," she continues. "Every word is chosen so carefully. The drawings are exquisite. Everything seems suspended in time."
Grassie is also very fond of Edward Gorey as a person. She knows him as a "very kind and generous man" who's contributed his valuable talent freely many times. When Gorey found that Grassie lacked a particular book for her growing collection of Goreyana, he gave her one of his own.
Collecting old Gorey titles, especially the out-of-print ones, has become a seller's market. A book like the Willowdale Hand Car, a slim, soft-covered paperback published in a small, cautious run by Bobbs-Merril in 1962 sold for $1.50 and was remaindered for 98 cents. The book is now worth $30 [in 1982] on the active market for Gorey's work - a market that Isobel Grassie sees as having taken off with Dracula. "It happened gradually," she says, "but Dracula did it," referring to Gorey's drawings and costumes for the Broadway production starring Frank Langella in the title role. "There was always a coterie of people who collected his work, but Dracula brought him to the attention of the general public."
But Isobel Grassie, who also collects Virginia Woolf and editions of Alice in Wonderland, sees Gorey as having a much larger place for himself carved out than Dracula might indicate. "He's really our present-day Edward Lear," she remarks, "except that Edward Lear wrote much better than he drew, whereas Edward Gorey does both equally well."
Paul Giambarba is editor and publisher of CapeArts.
Lily Giambarba is a 1982 Harvard English honors graduate.