October 06, 2016
(++++) DELIGHTS OF THE DISTINCTLY NON-DIGITAL
2017 Calendars: Wall—Alice in Wonderland; Mini-Wall—Edward Gorey Practical Cats; B. Kliban Cats; Engagement—Charley Harper. Pomegranate. $14.99 (Wall); $7.99 each (Mini-Wall); $15.99 (Engagement).
Yes, yes, everyone’s life is supposed to be 100% digital now, and carrying around anything with only a single function is hopelessly outdated and ridiculously old-fashioned – I mean, who could possibly want a watch that merely tells time or a telephone that simply makes calls (and what exactly are “calls” in this age of texting, and, for that matter, what is texting with words in this age of emoji, and so on and so on and so on?). Everyone knows that if you want to check the date, you glance at your phone, and if you want to check appointments, you call them up electronically, and if you want to remember special days, you set electronic reminders that alert you both with sounds and with computer-generated voices, and if you want to look at art, you do so on a screen, and, again, so on and so on and so on.
Poor world. Indeed, the world is poorer to the extent that we digitize everything and lose sight, often quite intentionally, of the chance to disconnect and to contemplate the passage of time – not merely snippets of it, but days and weeks and months – in strictly analog ways; that is, if we turn the page on a day or week or month by literally turning a page, and look at the expanse of time before us as if it were an actual, physical expanse.
Thank goodness not everyone thinks purely digitally when it comes to the passage of time, because if everyone did, there would be no place for the beautifully designed, stylish and visually delightful calendars produced with remarkable consistency by Pomegranate. Those calendars show no sign of going away, and none of declining in quality, for 2017. Oh yes, there are updates and changes here and there. A marvelous full-size wall calendar featuring John Tenniel’s superb illustrations for Alice in Wonderland turns on its head the famous first verse of Austin Dobson from the 1907 Heinemann edition of the tale: “Enchanting ALICE! Black-and-white/ Has made your deeds perennial;/ And naught save ‘Chaos and old Night’/ Can part you now from Tenniel.” But Lewis Carroll’s story is, after all, about many things being turned topsy-turvy, so if the Tenniel illustrations appear on this calendar in color rather than black-and-white, who shall gainsay the decision? (Well, all right, it can be gainsaid, but that would just be petty.) The 12 illustrations chosen for this lovely calendar will delight fans of Alice throughout the coming year, and a few of them look particularly good in their new, dressed-up hues: the White Rabbit suitably bedecked for court, the playing cards painting the rose bush, and the shower of cards raining down on Alice are all particularly striking in this gussied-up guise. The other scenes chosen for the calendar benefit less from being colored, or colorized, but there is a certain beauty to the Cheshire Cat’s tree-limb pose and the scene of Father William balancing an eel on the end of his nose that makes the color versions noteworthy in their own right. Pomegranate specializes in artistically attractive and vibrant calendars, and it is worth remembering that the long-lived Tenniel (1820-1914) was knighted by Queen Victoria for his artistic work, most of which appeared in Punch magazine. Seeing some of his most famous Carroll illustrations month after month cannot but connect lovers of Alice’s adventures and Victorian sensibility with a world whose distinctly old-fashioned elements seem all the more attractive as they fall all the more hopelessly out of date.
The Cheshire Cat as imagined by Tenniel is a progenitor of many, many other artistically rendered felines, including some connected, as Tenniel’s cat is, to literary works. There are, for example, the cats from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, as imagined by the ever-wonderful Edward Gorey (1925-2000). Pomegranate offers a wide variety of Gorey art, and the small-size 2017 wall calendar showcasing the cats of Eliot’s amusing poetic work is a particularly enjoyable example. This is a calendar suitable for hanging in an office cubicle or a small kitchen or bedroom space, or perhaps even a bathroom – anywhere that you would like to be amused by the Jellicle Cats dancing beneath the Jellicle Moon, the upper-crust antics of “Bustopher Jones: The Cat about Town,” and the incredible complexity of “The Naming of Cats” (complete with a book called Nomines Felarum). Gorey’s illustrations are both picture-perfect and pitch-perfect: Eliot’s erudite British amusements meld beautifully with Gorey’s American-yet-Victorian drawing style, so rich in cross-hatching and so filled with a sense of a time period somewhat askew as well as long past (actually more Edwardian than Victorian, but why quibble?). About the only flaw in this marvelous 2017 calendar is that it is strictly for people who know and love Eliot’s book – although, really, any cat lover will likely enjoy the unlikely poses of these poseur felines.
However, cat fanciers who are not Eliot fans may prefer a different dose of calendar felinity for the coming year, and Pomegranate has a mini-wall offering for that purpose as well: the offbeat, odd, peculiar, plump felines of B. Kliban (1935-1990). Kliban’s cats are without any literary pretensions, although one may occasionally be seen perusing some reading material (as one is in this calendar). Kliban cats are curiously catlike while being not catlike at all: in one scene here, they march in a parade, giving the lie to the notion that it is impossible to herd cats; in another, a cat dressed in a beaklike false proboscis and make-believe wings sits determinedly on a tree branch, clearly waiting for a nearby bird to make just one false move – and if cats could dress up this way, surely they would dress up this way. In every scene here, whether a cat is “up against the wall” and being frisked or is bundled in appropriate winter garments and is ice skating on a pond, the Kliban cats are recognizably Kliban and recognizably not-quite-real-but-maybe-in-some-other-universe. Cat lovers who cannot find joy in either the Kliban calendar or the one featuring Gorey’s cats just aren’t trying.
But of course not everybody is a cat lover. For that matter, not everybody favors wall calendars, which after all provide only a dozen pieces of art to enjoy throughout the year. For some people, pleasures come not from cats-as-birds but directly from birds. And Charley Harper (1922-2007) was a master of crafting birds in flat-looking drawings whose deliberate unreality somehow makes characteristics of the animals he portrayed seem more real. Harper’s art appears for 2017 in an utterly charming Pomegranate engagement calendar, a style in which the book is designed to sit on a table or desk or other flat surface, is spiral-bound to open flat, but is neither as large nor as formulaically laid out as a traditional desktop calendar/planner. In other words, not every page features a Harper illustration: sometimes there is indeed one on the left, with a week of dates on the right, as in a traditional desktop planner; but at other times a week at the end of a month faces a page giving the entirety of the next month; or two weeks of a month face each other without illustrations. The unpredictability of the page layout in this calendar is actually one of its charms. The main source of enjoyment, though, is Harper’s art. There is a wonderful whimsicality to these stylized, flat-looking, elegantly colored drawings. One called “Birdie” features two distinctly angry-looking birds staring defiantly out at the viewer; there is a golf ball between them, inches from a hole in which there are three eggs whose colors match those of the birds themselves. Uh-oh. Another drawing, “Tailgator,” shows a beautifully colored duck swimming in dark brown water, having just cleared a patch of greenery from which the unmistakable snout of a beady-eyed alligator sticks out, only inches from the duck’s tail. Uh-oh again. But some art here is full of sheer joy. “Provocative Plumage” has a bird hanging upside-down and displaying just that for a right-side-up bird that seems duly appreciative. And “Pelican Pantry” shows a pelican whose overstuffed beak is being used as a larder by a seagull that is raiding it for a fish. Harper also did marvelous things with animals other than birds. “Armadittos” has four baby armadillos suckling their upside-down mother – the babies all created from parallel lines, the mother from circles and triangles. “Early to Rise” offers a crowd of ladybugs bustling every which way. “Watermelon Moon,” one of the most delightful images here, features a huge semicircular slice of watermelon through which one large and three small raccoon faces peer at the viewer after the raccoons have obviously eaten their way through the fruit. And there is even a cat here, “Purrfectly Perched” and peering straight up at the viewer as autumn leaves fall straight down, apparently from the viewer’s position above the page. The many pleasures of Harper’s art make 2017 a year to look forward to, and in fact all these Pomegranate calendars do something similar. They not only follow the year but also make of it an anticipatory delight – in a way that no hyper-efficient but ultimately soulless electronic tracking mechanism is able to do.