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Dr. Seuss: A Man, His Cat and His Art:

He’ s tall but not fat

He’s the cat in the hat

It’s his 50th birthday

Now how about that!

Yes, it’s been 50 years since the gangly cat in the large stovepipe hat made his appearance in print and has remained a perennial favorite of youngsters and their parents. In honor of this anniversary (it’s also 50 candles this year for How the Grinch Stole Christmas) Gallery 319 is celebrating with a salute to the artist who was legally known as Theodore Seuss Geisel.

The Art of Dr. Seuss opened March 16 at Gallery 319 and runs through March 29. Rather than having an opening reception, the gallery is opting to hold a closing reception with a reading of The Cat in the Hat by actor and soccer coach Chad Doreck. A new piece of Cat in the Hat artwork will be raffled off to raise funds for For The Arts, the organization that benefits art programs in Santa Monica and Malibu schools.

Gallery 319 owner Michelle Rosen has decorated almost the entire gallery with the Doctor’s works, which include illustrations, limited editions and rough sketches for book illustrations. Looking around, one sees drawings of The Cat Horton the Elephant meeting up with a tiny “Who,” the beloved “Sam I Am” and his “Green Eggs and Ham,” and some other paintings that have to be seen to be believed.

One section of the gallery is devoted to the “Secret Art of Dr. Seuss.” Of these works, Rosen says, “There is a whole other side of Dr. Seuss that people don’t know. After he would spend his day writing The Cat in the Hat, he would go home and paint what he wanted to paint. He really was painting for himself. It’s just recently that these works have been shown to the public with the permission of his wife.”

In fact, Geisel was working in the 1930s as a commercial artist during the day. By night he painted, and his paintings were influenced by the Surrealist and Dada movements that had come to the States from Europe. One might say that the characteristic unworldly creatures of Dr. Seuss were born from this interest in the surreal, but Geisel’s nighttime paintings display a different surreal aesthetic, with vivid use of color (the children’s books use a limited palette of colors) and an expressive use of abstract form. Some examples can be seen in the Gallery 319 show, such as “The Joyous Leaping of Uncanned Salmon,” which seems like a precursor to the animated film Finding Nemo with its concept of bright underwater color and wild underwater life.

The concurrently published book The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss is available at the gallery and displays some other atypical Seuss drawings – a few of which require, uh, parental guidance.

Dr. Seuss’s wife Audrey Geisel said of her husband’s life work: “Ted knew he would leave big footprints after he was gone. I feel very close to Ted when I’m surrounded by his work, and these Dr. Seuss artworks are wonderful examples of some of his most beautiful footprints.”

The closing reception and reading will take place March 29 at 5 p.m. at Gallery 319, 319 Wilshire Boulevard, 310.899.1499.

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