Van Gogh & Sedaris & Kidd

I did a double-take when I saw the cover of David Sedaris' newest collection of deliriously funny essays, When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Dude's got a Van Gogh on the cover of his book!

The painting is 'Skull with a Burning Cigarette' (located in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam). My great friend Mark became obsessed with this painting when we visited the museum together in 2001. He's had a framed print of it on his wall ever since.

The conceptual union of the painting and the book is pitch perfect. The absurdity of the smoking skeleton is intensified by the association with Sedaris' own sense of the absurd. The title of the book heightens the intrigue of the image. The last essay in the book ('The Smoking Section') concerns Sedaris' attempts to quit/ridicule/understand his smoking habit. Besides, in the hands of a writer this funny, death can be downright hilarious.

Design of the book jacket is credited to Chip Kidd. My first question upon seeing the cover of When You Are Engulfed In Flames was 'how did they get rights to a Van Gogh?' Apparently, that was Kidd's biggest concern too, but he says it was "no big deal" in his blog entry on the subject. I guess you really can buy anything in Amsterdam.

Chip Kidd's typographic work for the cover is simple and tasteful and stays out of the way of the Van Gogh and the book title (which is taken from weird fire safety translation in Tokyo, where Sedaris went to attempt to quit smoking). Kidd is responsible for many other beautiful book jackets, like this one, this one, and this one.

It says a great deal about Sedaris's talent and cultural status that he can incorporate a Van Gogh painting into his work and not have its brightness dwarf his own. Brilliant stuff. If only we could send a royalty check back in time so Vincent could eat a decent meal.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

I gave this book to Mom for her birthday. When she looked at it, her face instantly turned into an intense scowl. That kind of look she gets when she clearly has no intention of hiding her disgust. And when I told her it had to do with Sedaris's quitting smoking, she was even more unenthused.

She later said that she really enjoyed the book, as she has always enjoyed his work, but that the cover image still freaks her out so much that she tries to keep it out of sight all the time.

But Van Gogh wouldn't have known the health implications of smoking, right?