By Sabina Mollot
When people think of Dr. Seuss, detailed oil paintings and taxidermy-inspired sculptures aren’t necessarily what come to mind. But the world-famous children’s book author and illustrator known for his whimsical creatures like Cat in the Hat and the Grinch did create other types of art, which he called his “midnight art.” And a number of those midnight art pieces are now part of an exhibit at a gallery in midtown owned by a Stuyvesant Town couple. The husband and wife team, Jeff Jaffe and Nanette Ross, own Pop International Galleries, which has two locations, the flagship in SoHo, and another in midtown’s Citicorp Building. The latter venue will be the site of the Seuss exhibit, called “The Cat Behind the Hat,” which will also feature some of the more well-known images from the artist’s beloved books.
Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, enjoyed a nearly seven-decade-long career and his midnight art, along with the other pieces, are being made available courtesy of his widow Audrey. This was in accordance with Seuss’s wishes that his secret works be shared with the public after his death. No originals will be available for sale but limited edition prints and artist proofs, which are museum quality, will be. Prices on the works range from $500-$35,000 depending on their rarity, and Jaffe, who spoke with Town & Village on Monday afternoon, said five pieces had already been sold that morning alone.
The exhibit, which opens today, Thursday, February 12, will run through the end of the month. It’s timed to coincide with Seuss’s birthday and the 25th anniversary of his last book, Oh the Places You’ll Go.
For Jaffe, the best part of the exhibit is the midnight art, since it shows a side of the artist that most of his fans have never seen.
“What’s great about his personal art is that he loved to do it more than anything,” Jaffe said. However, this is not to say Seuss didn’t enjoy the work he did for his children’s books. Rather than feel stifled as an artist by the illustrative style he was best known for, “he was quite humble that his books had such a profound effect.”
As for how he came to be known as Dr. Seuss, this was his mother’s maiden name “and she always wanted him to become a doctor,” said Jaffe. “That’s how he was. He had a diabolical sense of humor.”
Seuss’s style and the kinds of art he did evolved over the years. He did graphic art and advertising design in his early years and later on children’s books. He also did what he called “unorthodox taxidermy” pieces throughout his career though mostly early on, and ten of them will be on view at Pop International. Jaffe noted how the sculptures, in materials like resin, were fashioned from real bird bills and other parts from animals that had died that Seuss would get from his father who worked at a zoo. No actual animal parts are in the final art pieces, which have the artist’s distinctive style through details like googly eyes on a walrus. “They’re absolutely hilarious,” said Jaffe.
So far, the reaction to the exhibition has been, as expected, huge.
“We get avid, avid art collectors and we have people who just love Dr. Seuss,” said Jaffe. One illustration that’s been especially popular is “Kid, You’ll Move Mountains,” which is from the book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go.
“It’s the sort of thing you’d buy for a graduation,” said Jaffe. “It’s been really quite amazing to see the reaction and emotion.”
As the gallery’s name suggests, Pop International features works by pop artists from newcomers to the most well known like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. A show coming up at the SoHo location in March will feature five street artists with the focus on the Brazilian female artist Panmela Castro. Much of her work has had the theme of awareness of violence against women. Her works will be joined by works by four male artists in an exhibition titled, “We’ve Got Your Back, Girl.” The other artists are Dom, Pattinson, Chris Stain and Joe Ivato, and the show will be done in association with Creative Arts Works.
The Dr. Seuss exhibition will have its official opening at Pop International, 153 East 53rd Street (Citicorp building Atrium), with a reception taking place on February 12 from 5-8 p.m. To RSVP (required), call (917) 302-8404. A catalogue with prices can be requested online at popinternational.com.
Jaffe and Ross have owned the midtown gallery for two and a half years and the SoHo one at 473 West Broadway for 18 years. They’ve lived in Stuyvesant Town, where they’ve raised two children, for 25 years.