What an unmitigated joy to have a day off. My girlfriend and I decided to do a couple of errandy things before heading to the AGO’s exhibit on Guillermo del Toro, “At Home with Monsters”. It was amazing. Styled after his country house/workspace, it showcased models, props, art and inspiration to his expansive work. I went in expecting Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim. I hadn’t realised how far beyond that his cinematography ran.
The neat thing about hosting this kind of exhibit at an art gallery was how impeccably staged it was. There was so much goddamn material that instead of little placards, much of the time pieces just had little numbers next to them. Small racks on the wall held lists with all the information of their creators, etc. It was a neat way to leave as much space as possible for the work to speak for itself. There was a great cluster of early Disney work. Concepts sketches and the like. I had no idea Disney so commonly used a combination of chalk and pastels to such stellar effect. The pieces from Sleeping Beauty were particularly impressive.
Of course, a big part of del Toro’s appeal is his beautifully macabre monster designs. The big ones were all present. From Hellboy 2‘s Angel of Death, to Pan’s Labyrinth‘s Pale Man and Pan himself. All rendered in stunning realism. It mentioned how one of del Toro’s design inspiratioons is to shift placement of the eyes. By doing this, he says, it immediately creates a sense of foreboding that tracks back to childhood. Eyes are so often how we learn to connect to others. We read expression and intent from them. Once they’re moved, it subverts our expectations and leaves us unsettled. So take the Pale Man with his palm embedded eyes or the Angel of Death’s eyes lining its wings (apparently inspired by biblical designs). Their sockets aren’t so much barren as absent. The skin is either flat or replaced by a flat plate of bone. Oh, bone. Bone was another thing I noticed in the same vein. As humans we innately expect our skeletons to be on the inside. If they’re not, something’s gone wrong big time. In many of del Toro’s designs you might see a spine pressed right to the skin or even protruding. Or forearms so skinny that the bone pokes through. Once again it’s subverting our assumptions to create unease.
I thought the figure of Pan was especially rad. I saw the movie 11 years ago, so I didn’t have a strong imprint of what it looked like in my brain. It has this sublime asymmetry and fusion of both plant and animal. Its flesh alternates between soft skin and firm bark. Long red tresses flow from its head, but where natural body hair would be it often sprouts moss instead. One of its feet is composed of jagged wood, while the other is a large hoof. It once again hosts an exposed spine, but of intertwining vines. It’s hella cool.
The exhibit also spanned his love of pop culture, Gothic literature and horror films. It was awesome to see someone who, from a young age, continually ran after their passions. Guillermo seems to hold this ardent desire to bring to life the world he found through fiction. It was cool to see, for instance, that he’d been trying to bring Hellboy to the screen for years. Blade 2 was a job taken in order to inch closer towards it. By doing a studio film (still with his own flair, by the looks of it. I’ve never seen it), his agent assured him that studios would be more likely to open their pockets for his passion projects. As the years have attested, it worked.
I know this sounds like a massive ad, but if you’re in Toronto please check the exhibit out. My girlfriend hadn’t seen much of his stuff and loved it as much as I did. There’s so much to take in. We spent about two and a half hours there, but could’ve easily done a lot more if we weren’t already pretty exhausted. If you’re a fan of his work or just want to see dark and pretty things, it runs for aaaages. You’ve got no good excuse not to give it AGO.