the cat in the cavern: surreal manifesto of yuzz, zats, fuddle…

We all have some recollections of Dr. Seuss and in particular the unusual illustrations ( Theodor Geisel) which seemed to overshadow the narrative of the story. Nature was constantly bent, shaped and metamorphisized into hybrid living forms with unlikely and unexpected geometric forms. It was the art of exaggeration and simplification. There was Architecture with peculiar protrusions and mathematically challenging angles where linear symmetry was at a premium. These were some of the artistic signatures that Dr. Seuss illustrated in his sixty odd books and previous work as an advertising illustrator.

"Newman: I was obsessed with Barcelona for years. I was amazed at how beautiful the city was. I couldn’t believe someone with such a strange, surreal, Dr. Seuss-like aesthetic was allowed to build all these landmarks in Barcelona and basically change the face of the city. The architect Antoni Gaudí built Park Güell, which is this psychedelic park in the middle of Barcelona, and the Sagrada Familia...." read more:

Like Dr. Seuss, Gaudí almost never used straight lines in his constructions. The Casa Batlló is, arguably, his most Seussian work. (Although, to be fair, it should be pointed out that the Casa Batlló was completed in 1877 exactly 50 years before Seuss published his first book). There’s something about this building that feels organic; to walk around inside it is to feel like one’s walking around the innards of some living creature. Indeed, locals refer to this building as the casa dels ossos (the house of bones). Known as the “Dr. Seuss” of masonry, Gaudi’s whimsical and dreamlike structures remain a testament of one of the most original and memorable architects of all time.

"---As Nel points out in his 2002 book The Avant-Garde and American Postmodernity: Small Incisive Shocks, this was the decade in which the great surrealist exhibitions took place, showing the works of Salvador Dali -- who made the cover of Time magazine in 1936 -- Rene Magritte, Max Ernst and others. It would have been difficult to avoid their influence, and the "twists and turns and slipperiness" of Seuss's pictures, says Nel, show his debt to the surrealists. This can also be seen in Seuss's private paintings, many of which were published in 1995's The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss. Children's author and illustrator Jon Agee, reviewing that book, noted that "a couple of strange, hallucinogenic landscapes recall the paintings of Max Ernst or Yves Tanguy -- except that in each case, somewhere in the scene, there's a cat." --- read more: image:

It is hard to determine exactly when Seuss came into contact with Gaudi, but his buildings certainly do share common features with those of Gaudi, who once replied to his detractors by stating that there were no straight lines in nature; as debatable as Gaudi’s beliefs may have been- his Roman Catholic beliefs were highyl linear!- they do tend to describe Seuss’s architecture: Curvy, meandering structures that draw on Art Nouveau, Surrealism, Gaudi and Escher that make imaginary worlds vibrate with an exoticism and a sense of the magical.

Dr. Seuss advertising. "Nel discusses the artistic influences on Seuss in more depth in his new book to be released in March, Dr. Seuss: American Icon. He identifies the work of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi as an influence on Seuss's buildings, which "echo and amplify the landscape surrounding them," and Rube Goldberg as an influence on Seuss's depictions of machines. Nel defines Seuss's style -- "Seussism," he calls it -- as "energetic cartoon surrealism." read more: image:


Seuss also shared with the avant-garde an attitude to language. For Seuss, language was not an inherited set of rules, but a world to be explored, even expanded. “Why use snarl when I can use snerl?” Nel asks. In On Beyond Zebra (1955), Seuss imagines an entire alphabet beyond Z, consisting of letters like YUZZ, ZATZ, FUDDLE, and FLUNN. Seuss, says Nel, “literally goes after language itself — going beyond portmanteau words to give us portmanteau letters.” Pointing out the arbitrariness of language, of course, is a subversive act, reminiscent of French surrealist Andre Breton’s declaration: “We make no claim to change the mores of mankind, but we intend to show the fragility of thought, and on what shifting foundations, what caverns we have built our trembling houses.”

"Every Girl Should Have a Unicorn Abstract expressionism was the rage in art schools across America beginning in the 1950s. Dr. Seuss incorporates this genre in a number of artworks including I Dreamed I was a Doorman at the Hotel Del Coronado, among others. Here we find one of Seuss’s most vivid palettes as he conveys organic elements and abstraction along with his signature sense of humor - as you discover a girl riding a unicorn in the lower right-hand corner of the artwork." read more:

…Seuss never adopted the cynicism that plagues many of today’s postmodernists. A successful American ad man rather than a bomb-throwing radical, he retained our trust as a mildly eccentric uncle with whom our children would come to no harm. Though he adopted radical, avant-garde techniques — surrealism, subversion of language, ambiguity — he employed them in constructive ways that encouraged children to see beyond the mental limits imposed by their society. Read More:
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