Illustrator, book artist, and printmaker Barry Moser delights in beasts and monsters. “Barry Moser: The Storied Artist,” the latest exhibition at Bromer Gallery, the space Bromer Booksellers opened last year, glories in threading mythic implications into fictional portraiture.
Moser, now 78, moved to Western Massachusetts from his home state of Tennessee in the late 1960s. He studied with Leonard Baskin, another printmaker who captured monumental themes in nuanced characterizations, and opened his own print shop, Pennyroyal Press. He has illustrated more than 250 books, and is best known for Pennyroyal’s special editions, such as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Frankenstein,” and the King James Bible.
Adhering to traditional symbols for the evangelists, Moser portrays Luke as an ox, John as an eagle, Matthew as an angel, and Mark as a lion. The last is a splendid woodcut. The lion’s noble visage fills the frame; his eyes appear focused on something beyond or above us. His mane reads like radiant light and shadow. The wisdom in his face made me think of Aslan, the Christ-like lion in C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
“Cowardly Lion,” for an edition of “The Wizard of Oz,” is another sort altogether — nose in the air, ears and mane flattened back in fear. Looking like a bearded otter, he’d be goofy if he weren’t so cowed. In contrast, the wood-engraved color prints of Frankenstein loom horrifically out of the darkness, corpselike and leering.
“Queen of Hearts” is a variation of Moser’s “Alice in Wonderland” dowager sparked up with color for “The Mother Goose Collection of Six Limited Edition Prints.” Dear God, she’s a fright, eyes askew, head looming over an oversize bow and roses poking out beneath her crown as if she’s the thorn.
Moser has a deft hand with watercolors, and his “The Three Little Pigs” could be a snapshot of 6-year-olds joshing for the camera. One picks his nose; another makes rabbit ears behind his brother. Portrait illustrations must distill some essence of the human experience. Moser knows how face and gesture tell a story, and he is a master storyteller.
BARRY MOSER: THE STORIED ARTIST
At Bromer Gallery, 607 Boylston St., through Aug. 16. 617-247-2818, www.bromer.com