It’s been 24 years since Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) passed away, but his memory lives on in the eclectic characters he created: a mustachioed guardian of the trees, a tyrannical turtle, and a cat insistent upon return visits. But there is more to Dr. Seuss’s artistic practise than even the 44 children’s books he wrote and illustrated in his lifetime convey. On December 5, Toronto’s Liss Gallery opens Oh, The Places You’ll Go, a Dr. Seuss exhibition which aims to reveal Geisel’s inventive and multidimensional personal work. “The exhibit features the paintings and sculptures [Geisel] was creating for his own enjoyment at night—he called these his ‘midnight paintings,’” says show curator Bill Dreyer. “They were very personal and exploratory. He didn’t give a lick what people thought, they weren’t intended to be seen.”
Yet upon Geisel’s ultimate request, his wife, Audrey, now 94, authorized the collection for show, bringing to light the personal work of the biggest personality in children’s literature. Known amongst Random House employees of his time for the exceptional creative freedom allowed to him, it seems beyond imagination to wonder: if it wasn’t lurid green hams and egg-hatching elephants, what fantastical images did Geisel conceive of at his most outré?
“Adults will be completely surprised by the work; some of the references he includes are a little ‘wink wink, nudge nudge’ [and] go over the heads of the kids,” says Dreyer. “Visitors will learn that surrealism is the foundation of his art,” he continues, noting Geisel attended surrealist exhibits by Salvador Dalí and contemporaries in Paris in 1927 and New York 1929, and often played with and adapted other artist’s styles. Geisel’s Worm Burning Bright in the Forest in the Night, for instance, is a an oil drip painting he created after seeing a Jackson Pollack retrospective (and presumably reading William Blake), while his Green Cat in Uleåborg Finland Subway was inspired by Frank Stella’s Tomlinson Court Park.
Children will indeed recognize characters from their favourite bedtime stories; Yertle, Horton, and Things 1 and 2 all make appearances in the exhibit. These familiar faces, along with Geisel’s private works, thoroughly express an unhindered imagination, making for a family-friendly exhibit one could not, would not, want to miss.
Update: a selection of artworks from The Art of Dr. Seuss will be on display from July 11–July 30, 2016 at the Pendulum Gallery, 885 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6C 3E8, 604-250-9682.