The bulk of Peter Callesen’s work is crafted from regular A4 sheets of paper– what he calls “probably the most common and consumed media used for carrying information today.” The simplicity of the material belies a meticulous technique that the artist wields in order to form spiders, birds, skeletons, cages, and, memorably, a tableau of hell from the stuff everyone else uses as scratch paper.
Callesen, who lives and works in Copenhagen, grounds his work in the assertion that “we rarely notice the actual materiality of the A4 paper…by taking away all the information and starting from scratch using the blank white A4 paper sheet for my creations, I feel I have found a material that we are all able to relate to, and at the same time the A4 paper sheet is neutral and open to fill with different meaning.”
Photographer and video artist Ben Aqua’s work is about beguiling costumes, duplicitous environments, and charming charlatans. Photographing a wide range of brightly-colored individuals in their home environments, Aqua is at once an anthropological wild-life observer and a subversive puppetmaster. His detached sense of geometric beauty amplifies the theatricality of his subjects to the same level as his more consciously constructed and brilliantly creepy large-scale still lifes.
Check out his blog, Auquabotic, for a mouth-watering assortment of mysterious found web ephemera mixed in with the artist’s own elusive imagery.
Capturing an intimate look at China’s first ever elementary school class election, Weijun Chen’s 2007 documentary Please Vote For Me is a surprisingly enthralling and emotional little film. Thankfully avoiding the easy route of superfluous historical exposition and grandiose politicizing, the film focuses not on the nation of China but on three very different children who have been thrust into an unfamiliar political framework.
While each candidate struggles for power, they exhibit familiar dark human impulses that are somehow rendered shocking in their tangibility. These are children old enough to think complex, sometimes manipulative thoughts, and yet too young to be covert about them. As a result, we’re treated to a brutally honest peek at the mechanics behind human relationships, and a portrait of childhood that’s at once adorable and disheartening.
If you have a Netflix account, Please Vote For Me is available to stream instantly for free.
No survey of classic kid’s book illustrators would be complete without Eric Carle, whose best-known work The Very Hungry Caterpillar has sold over 29 million copies since it was published in 1969. Wowza!
Like all stellar children’s illustrators, Carle’s work is colorful, ingenious and recognizable at fifty paces. The artist layers hand-painted papers to form his signature collages of pandas, frogs, cats and bears. The most memorable aspect of Carle’s work, however, is not exactly an aesthetic value. More than any other illustrator, Carle fills his work with love and warmth––qualities as magnetic on the page as they are difficult to capture.
Born in 1929 in Syracuse, New York to German immigrants, Carle recalls tramping through the woods with his father and examining the wonders of nature, a feeling he tries to recapture in books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Normally when you love something dearly––a song, a painting, a pair of pants––and find out that millions of other people feel the same way, a certain sense of intimacy with the product is lost. Part of Eric Carle’s magic is that this is never the case with his books. No matter how many copies of Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear make their way across the globe, all the joy and love of Carle’s inventions remain firmly intact.
Best of all? Carle keeps a delightful blog for those seeking a bit of his magic on the internet.
Miss Haviland: Is there any point that you would like to make, aside from the questions that have been brought up to you before and which you’ve answered again tonight?
Mr. Sendak: I love my work very much, it means everything to me. I would like to see a time when children’s books were not segregated from adult books, a time when people didn’t think of children’s books as a minor art form, a little Peterpanville, a cutsey-darling place where you could Have Fun, Laugh Your Head Off. I know so many adult writers whom I would happily chop into pieces, who say, “Well I think I’ll take a moment and sit down and knock off a kiddy book! It looks like so much fun, it’s obviously easy…” And, of course, they write a lousy book!
It would be so much better if everyone felt that children’s books are for everybody, that we simply write books, that we are a community of writers and artists, that we are all seriously involved in the business of writing. And if everyone felt that writing for children is a serious business, perhaps even more serious than a lot of other forms of writing, and if when such books are reviewed and discussed, they were discussed on this serious level, and that we would be taken seriously as artists.
I would like to do away with the division into age categories of children over here and adults over there, which is confusing to me and I think probably confusing to children. It’s very confusing to many people who don’t even know how to buy a children’s book. I think if I have any particular hope it’s this: that we all should simply be artists and just write books and stop pretending that there is such a thing as being able to sit down and write a book for a child: it is quite impossible. One simply writes books.
– Questions to an Artist Who Is Also an Author: A Conversation between Maurice Sendak and Virginia Haviland (a public interview at the Library of Congress held in 1971)
“Experimental geography, like it sounds, is more experiment than answer,” begins Nato Thompson in Experimental Geography, a book produced in collaboration with the Independent Curators Network.
The field–which is still new and loosely defined– concerns the intersection of contemporary art and contemporary geography, and aims to reveal in interesting ways the fact that “we make the world and, in turn, the world makes us.”
It’s a useful thesis for our times and one with dizzying implications. Thompson’s book is dense with illuminating essays– one suggests that a tour bus is a mobile theater; another claims that reality television can provide a model for urban planning theory.
Then there are the images. In terms of sheer visual impact, Experimental Geography is like a portable museum survey. A silkscreened image from a forged passport shares space with a map of Boston evacuation routes; video stills show a fellow mounting a telephone booth, and a model of Constant Niewenhuys’s 1958 Yellow Sector from the New Babylon project gets a two-page spread.
Few projects attempt to change the way you navigate the physical world. Fewer still succeed. One can only wonder what would’ve happened had Max been armed with a copy of the book as he made his way out into the land of the Wild Things…
Jules Feiffer has had an impressively diverse career. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, playwright, and children’s book artist. He’s a screenwriter who’s penned films for brilliant filmmakers Robert Altman, Mike Nichols, and Alain Resnais. He apprenticed under legendary comic book artist Will Eisner. And he illustrated a young adult novel that you just might have heard of– The Phantom Tollbooth. I could go on, but, you know– that’s what Wikipedia is for. Bottom Line: Jules Feiffer is the bomb.
So what do you get when someone as rad as Feiffer collaborates with the cartoon wizard responsible for those awesome animated adaptations of Where the Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen? You get Gene Deitch’s Munro, an Oscar-winning 1960 cartoon based on a sharply satirical tale from Feiffer’s collection Passionella and Other Stories:
Son of a cinematographer and a child therapist, Jan von Holleben must have been destined to create visually striking depictions of childhood fantasy. In his series Dreams of Flying, the photographer takes an old-fashioned approach to staging gravity-defying acrobatics. Hollenben’s work is Gondry-esque (though maybe it’s the “Ghostbusters” shot leaving that impression) in its lo-fi sensibility, favoring D.I.Y. fun over glossy special effects trickery. Check out his latest series, Journey to Everywhere for more adventurous kids, make believe and optical illusions.
Some printed materials seem to defy their genre at the same time as they define it. Ulysses comes to mind as far as novels are concerned, and Spy magazine is surely an exemplar of that medium. These events are few and far between– no one said innovation was easy. It’s not insignificant, then, that the graphic novel canon has recently welcomed a similar opus into its midst with Asterios Polyp.
David Mazzuchelli’s epic tale is intelligent and funny and dense with references to everything from Hermann Hesse to Isamu Noguchi. There’s something for everyone on every page: double entendres cozy up to explorations of language theory; cosmic ponderings share space with pocket analyses of Italo Calvino.
Looks are as important as brains in a graphic novel, of course, and Mazzuchelli’s aesthetic is dizzyingly beautiful. Every stroke has meaning–really, every stroke–and you could easily isolate a random frame and find it good enough to mount on your wall.