Edward Gorey

The King of Macabre

With skeleton season upon us, I figured it would be fun to highlight an artists who’s work I had the opportunity to see when I was a child at the Portland Museum of Art.

Born in Chicago, Edward St. John Gorey (1925-2000) was an American illustrator and writer, most famous for his children’s books, usually filled with his signature unnerving style that depicts Victorian and Edwardian settings with exaggerated and unsettling characters.

Edward Gorey, The Doubtful Guest, 1957

Edward Gorey is a fascinating man, too. His main body of work is comprised of children’s books, sometimes without any words at all. Despite this, Gorey largely disliked children and also professed to have little interest in romantic relationships. In addition to this, he was also extremely vague about his sexual orientation, and when pressed about it he quoted,

“I’m neither one thing nor the other particularly. I am fortunate in that I am apparently reasonably undersexed or something … I’ve never said that I was gay and I’ve never said that I wasn’t … what I’m trying to say is that I am a person before I am anything else … Well, I’m neither one thing nor the other particularly. I suppose I’m gay. But I don’t identify with it much” (Gorey interviewed by Robert Gottlieb, published in 2018).

The artist and author Edward Gorey, in a photograph from the early 1970s, favored a raccoon coat for a time. Photographer unknown.

He would go on to say the “sexless” nature of his work was a direct result of  his a sexuality. Gorey was an extremely reclusive artists, with a rare interview occasionally popping up, and rarely left his Massachusetts residence in Yarmouth Port. Here he would not only illustrate, but also produce theatrical entertainments using his own papier-mâché puppets, naming his “cast” Le Theatricule Stoique. 

He would have no long-term formal art training, taking only one semester of art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, however he would end up transferring to Harvard to study French, sharing a room with American poet Frank O’Hara. 

Gorey would also write many of his books under various pseudonyms which were almost always anagrams of his own name Such as “Ogdred Weary”.

Gorey would leave a lasting legacy for his iconic style, carving out a swath of his own unique version of “macabre.” His influence would echo into various aspects of culture an media today. After all, without Gorey there would be no goth. 

Edward Gorey, Detail from Cover of The Wanderer, 1953

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