Monday, March 20, 2017

Portrait of an Artist: The Life and Work of Edward Sorel

Portrait of an Artist The Life and Work of Edward SorelOn a chilly Sunday afternoon, we headed into Boston for a very special event. Boston University's Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center was hosting a grand opening for their new exhibition entitled Portrait of an Artist: The Life and Work of Edward Sorel. Celebrated artist Edward Sorel was on hand along his good friend legendary cartoonist Jules Feiffer. A dedicated room boasted a variety of art from Edward Sorel's long and industrious career.

For those of you unfamiliar with Sorel, he's known for his political, editorial and entertainment caricatures, cartoons and illustrations. His work has graced many covers of The New Yorker and has appeared in Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic and many other illustrious publications. He's also the illustrator of several books including his latest one Mary Astor's Purple Diary which explores in both text and caricature Mary Astor's 1936 courtroom scandal. Woody Allen recently reviewed the book in The New York Times saying "in Sorel’s colloquial, eccentric style, the tale he tells is juicy, funny and, in the end, touching."

I spend some time browsing the exhibit which boasted a collection of his New Yorker covers, many individual editorials, photographs of Sorel and his family and a video loop displaying a short documentary. It was a very crowded exhibit with many folks eager to see the works on display. Of course I was drawn to Sorel's classic film related pieces. Familiar faces including Clark Gable, Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and more are caricatured in his works. A particular favorite of mine is Sorel's Frank Sinatra illustration on the April 1966 cover of Esquire magazine.

Edward Sorel exhibit
Edward Sorel's Frank Sinatra portrait for Esquire
and other works
Edward Sorel exhibit
Edward Sorel exhibit
Edward Sorel exhibit
Illustration from Mary Astor's Purple Diary
and other classic film art

Me with a copy of Mary Astor's Purple Diary
and artist Edward Sorel in the background

Woody Allen's New York Times Book Review
Woody Allen's New York Times Book Review piece on display
After exploring the exhibit, we were all seated to hear from the special guests. First up was Cullen Murphy, editor-at-large Vanity Fair and son of acclaimed artist John Cullen Murphy. He's worked with Edward Sorel over 30 years. In his speech he reflected,

"If for some fluke, all the other sources of information in our society were to disappear and all that was left was the work of Edward Sorel on the walls, would the future get us right? And I think they would have our number."
Cullen Murphy, editor at Vanity Fair

Murphy also reflected on artist Jules Feiffer and asked the audience "how many people do you know who have won a Pulitzer Prize, an Obie award and an Oscar?" Feiffer won an Academy Award in 1961 for his animated short Munro (1960).

Jules Feiffer
Artist Jules Feiffer
If you work in the book industry like I do, Jules Feiffer is a familiar name. His work has appeared in countless books and periodicals and he's generally considered one of the greatest cartoonists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Feiffer was impressed with the exhibition and proud of his friend Edward Sorel. He remembered the very charged political time when he and Sorel were growing up in the Bronx. Feiffer said,

"During the great Depression... when everybody was poor and nothing was happening... there was this cultural explosion. There was radio from coast to coast with great comics and radio shows. There were movies. There was Fred and Ginger. There was William Powell and Myrna Loy. One could be a leftie radical, socio-communist during the week and on Saturday night you went to the movies. The movies were the religion."

Feiffer went on discuss the cultural shift when expressing very liberal points of view became dangerous. He noted that for three artists in particular, Feiffer, Sorel and David Levine, it joined them in "a kind of sensibility of protest." Each of them found their own unique style and way to express their political views. Feiffer says "Ed found his from the politics and the movies." He calls Sorel's art "a bombshell" and notes the sense of immediacy that comes the influence of the movies as well as Sorel's keen sense of place and architecture in his works. Feiffer joked that can never remember the name of Sorel's new book only because the original title "Screwball Tragedy" still sticks in his mind.

Edward Sorel
Artist Edward Sorel
Feiffer and the audience toasted honoree Edward Sorel who then proceeded to the stage to give his thanks to family, friends, colleagues and the Gotlieb Center. Sorel reflected that he wouldn't have been able to do what he did in the 1960s if Feiffer hadn't led the way with his innovation in the 1950s. Sorel joked that you should never call yourself a self-made man because it takes not only hard work but a lot of luck to get far in life. He remembers how lucky he was in the 1950s when it was a lucrative time to have a career. In his first year as a professional illustrator, he was fired 9 times yet each new job paid better than the last.

Me with Edward Sorel at his book signing

Following the talk there was a book signing. I was eager to meet Edward Sorel and have him sign my copy of Mary Astor's Purple Diary. I had a quick moment to tell him about my love of classic movies and to pose with him for a photo.

My husband Carlos got to meet him too and Sorel autographed his exhibition booklet.

This event was free and open to the public. If you have an opportunity to go to an event at the Gotlieb center I highly recommend it. Neither Carlos nor I had ever been there so we took the time to explore the various displays, many of which were classic film related. Here are some of our favorites displays.

Mary Astor display at the Howard Gotlieb Center

Pages from the edited manuscript of Mary Astor's autobiography

Carlos in front of the Michael Douglas display

A letter from Kirk Douglas to Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Lauren Bacall display at the Howard Gotlieb Center

Oscar statuettes. Left to right: Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady, Myrna Loy's Honorary Oscar, Gene Kelly's An American in Paris Best Picture Oscar

My review of Mary Astor's Purple Diary by Edward Sorel

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