"The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss" Unveiled at Ao5 Gallery
Mythical taxidermy and more in Theodor Geisel's "midnight paintings"
By Gracie Awalt,
2:00PM, Tue. Mar. 19, 2019
Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, influenced generations with his colorful, rhyming, and uniquely whimsical stories. These children’s books are highly acclaimed, deeply beloved, and what people remember when they hear his pen name.
When Geisel wasn’t creating the iconic scenes in The Cat in the Hat, he used his creative expertise another way. According to Ao5 Gallery Director Todd Gresley, in between publication deadlines, Geisel was free to let his imagination run even wilder and produced his “midnight paintings.”
When Geisel passed away in 1991, his wife Audrey (who passed away in December of last year) was left with her husband's body of work, which included these “midnight paintings.” This collection has since been dubbed "The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss." Audrey allowed the artist management and publishing organization Chase Art Companies to create limited editions of this work, honoring Seuss’ wish of keeping his original art in their home in La Jolla, Calif.
“I feel like the paintings were his privacy and his escape,” Gresley says. “He didn’t want to let the world know, but that was his solace. And upon dying and knowing so, he was like ‘Honey, I think it’s time for you to show everybody what I did, but figure out how to do it with tact and respect.’”
One of the world’s largest collections of "The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss" resides in the Ao5 Gallery on South Lamar, according to Gresley. The 166 pieces of Seuss’ artwork here don’t focus on any particular image or subject, although cats are seen in several works, along with mythical creatures and allusions to other famous artists such as Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali, and M.C. Escher.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a common theme,” Gresley says. “For the first time, he got to paint what he wanted.”
Included in this collection is a series of sculptures that Seuss created called Unorthodox Taxidermy. Horns of a caribou, ears of a rabbit, and the beak of a toucan bird come together in sculptures depicting mythical creatures mounted on taxidermy plaques. Gresley said Seuss’ father was superintendent of the Springfield, Mass., zoo in the 1920s, and when an animal would meet its demise, his father would take the animal parts and give them to Seuss, who was attending Dartmouth College at the time.
“The unorthodox taxidermy was just him as a kid, a hobby, and it became clearly a hit,” Gresley said. “Unorthodox meaning it wasn’t true taxidermy, but it was just plaster cast, glass eyes, and he would use a part like a little horn off of a tiny mammal and make it into a unicorn horn.”
Gresley said a few of Seuss’ sculptures were found missing from his home in La Jolla, but one was found in a bait shop on the East Coast. He said Seuss could have donated the piece to a charity event after it was made. “Imagine having over a million dollars hanging on your front door with Mardi Gras beads hanging from the antlers,” he said.
Gresley said Seuss’ father pressured him to pursue medical school in college, but instead he became editor of the Dartmouth College newspaper and focused on the arts. When he started to gain fame, he coined the pen name Dr. Seuss to satisfy his father.
"The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss" is on display through March 25 at Ao5 Gallery (formerly Art on 5th), 3005 S. Lamar. The gallery is open every day.