Limited-edition prints of three of the infamous library-book covers that Joe Orton doctored with his partner, Kenneth Halliwell, have been released by the gay playwright’s estate.
Leicester-born Orton and his lover - and eventual murderer - Halliwell ended up serving time in prison as a result of doctoring the covers of 72 books belonging to Islington Public Library, rendering them comic or absurd.
Initially decried as an act of vandalism by the authorities, Orton and Halliwell’s redesigned dustjackets later came to be seen as an amusing prank and playful protest against conservatism. Today, their collages are recognised as an act of artistic creation rather than destruction - one that anticipates the central themes of Orton’s plays, particularly his satire on social and sexual norms.
The Orton Estate has collaborated with Islington Local History Centre and celebrated artist Christian Furr to produce just 100 prints of three designs: Collins Guide To Roses, Queen’s Favourite and The Secret Of Chimneys.
Each print will be stamped with the Orton Estate seal and signed by Leonie Orton and Christian Furr, who has remastered the original images.
The prints are being sold in support of a campaign to crowdfund a statue of Orton in his hometown.
Each print is available in exchange for a pledge of £500 by the 30 November at:spacehive.com/joe-orton-statue-appeal
The prints’ release coincides with the announcement of a charity auction at The Curtain Hotel, Shoreditch, on 19 November. The auction includes donated artworks from Christian Furr, David Locke and The Connor Brothers, rare Orton artefacts and handwritten lyrics for the Pet Shop Boys’ song, Up Against It.
Born in Leicester, Orton shocked, outraged and amused audiences with scandalous black comedies Loot, Entertaining Mr Sloane and What The Butler Saw. His short career profoundly influenced future generations of writers, to the point that his unique style gave rise to the adjective ‘Ortonesque’, to describe work that blends the comic and the macabre.
His life, as revealed in his diaries, was as scandalous as his plays. He died tragically at the age of 34, murdered by Halliwell in 1967.
Seeking to erect what will be one of only a handful of memorials to LGBT icons in the UK, the statue project has already received international backing and support from celebrity Orton fans including actors Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, Sheila Hancock, Kenneth Cranham and Alec Baldwin, choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne and novelist Patrick Gale.
The appeal is seeking to raise £120,000 to design, create and site the statue at a prominent position in the city of Leicester, ensuring a literary legend and LGBT trailblazer will be remembered for generations to come.
It’s hoped that the release of the limited-edition Orton/Halliwell prints, along with the upcoming auction, will help the appeal to reach its target by the deadline of 30 November.
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