Posts Tagged ‘The Art of Maurice Sendak’

Micro-Questionnaire: Matt Furie

Published August 12, 2009 by Graham

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Matt Furie has fathered a legion of beguiling beasts in his rainbow-hued drawings, expanding his own personal zoology each time he confronts the infinite emptiness of a blank page. Even while they approach the mind-boggling biodiversity of those interminable Pokémon, Furie’s characters manage to convey an emotional depth that approaches Jim Henson levels. Depicting moments of sensuality, rage, despair and intense lethargy, the artist approaches his work with a deadpan sense of humor that often comes wrapped in a burrito of delicious sincerity. Here are his thoughts on children’s literature.

Did you have any favorite picture books as a child?

Where’s Waldo series, The Far Side Galleries, Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever, The first book I could ever remember reading was about a yellow bear-like animal that had colored spots. This animal felt bad because he didn’t fit in at the zoo. He could use his spots like frisbees and make them bigger, smaller, etc. It seemed like a Dr. Seuss book but different. I also remember really liking this book called This is Weird about some kids on a boat that end up on an abandoned and haunted island full of weird trapdoors and tunnels and old houses and paths and ladders.

What are your childhood recollections of Maurice Sendak’s work? Are you influenced by his visual language?

I liked the Wild Things book when I was little but it wasn’t until I started researching children’s books in college that I came to appreciate it. I like that book a lot but I’m a bit unfamiliar with his other stuff. I read the book The Art of Maurice Sendak and remember him saying that the monsters in the book were based on his relatives and his experience with them being too scary and all in his face at family dinners when he was a kid. I also remember him saying that a lot of his ideas involve eating/the fear of being eaten. As for his visual language, I thinks its a perfect balance of skill, childishness, flatness, and light.

Do you think you’ll ever make a children’s book of your own? What would it be about?

That would make my mom really happy. I’m not sure what it would be about but I know it would be a fantasy. It would start off in the real world of a kid (like Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Neverending Story, Princess Bride, Where the Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, Labyrinth, and pretty much every good children’s fantasy plot). There would definitely be lots of wacky and magical creatures.

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Were you prone to retreating into imaginary worlds, growing up? If so, please describe!

I used toys, video games, t.v., movies, and drawing to retreat into imaginary worlds. I remember being in the backseat of the car and looking out of the window and pretending that I was a creature running and hopping along the trees. I think every kid is prone to retreat into imaginary worlds.

Like Sendak’s Wild Things, the creatures in your work often defy biological classification. Is it a challenge to come up with such alien forms?

Nothing I could ever come up with could ever be stranger or more fascinating than what’s out there.

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The Ensnaring Allure of the Aesthetic

Published August 10, 2009 by Graham

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In The Art of Maurice Sendak: From 1980 to the Present, playwright Tony Kushner ponders the naysayers of illustrated children’s books, those elitist fools who consider the medium a disreputable lower art form– a bastardization of literature– soiled by its alleged impurity and sacrilege. Is impurity such a crime?

And you can see their point, you can comprehend their distaste, those purist picture-haters, those iconoclasts! For who has not been seduced and then abandoned by the impure? What is a picture book for children? It’s a trick! Its purpose is to lure kids into the gingerbread cottage, the prison-house, the labyrinth of language.

Why are there picture books? Centuries ago, recognizing how strenuous a chore reading is going to get for anyone lucky enough to grow older and graduate to really difficult books, some useful person invented the illustrated book to start kids reading. The picture book performs an allurement; it offers to kids an already familiar language, the visual, as a seductive entry into a not yet familiar, forbidding, and more treacherous world—the world of written language, of serious abstraction, of sayables and unsayables. Children’s literature makes us fall in love with books and we never recover—we’re doomed. Having spent one night In The Night Kitchen, we’re on our way to Proust and Hegel and the Holy Scriptures.

Murray and Mickey

Published June 30, 2009 by Graham

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As the opening page of Selma G. Lanes’ definitive resource, The Art of Maurice Sendak, makes exceedingly clear, Sendak’s life has been entwined with Mickey Mouse’s since the very beginning. Born one month after Walt Disney’s radical rodent first flew onto silver screens, the artist grew up enthralled by Mickey. Serving as the source material for his first color illustration (completed at age six, and far more impressive than the work of most adult illustrators) and, much later, inspiration for In the Night Kitchen’s euonymous plane-flying hero, Mickey Mouse is described by Lanes as a dominant force in Sendak’s childhood.

The young Maurice, like countless other children from coast to coast, chewed Mickey Mouse chewing gum, brushed his teeth with a Mickey Mouse toothbrush, played with Mickey in a seemingly endless variety of games, and read about his adventures in all shapes and sizes of comic strips and storybooks. “Best of all,” Sendak says, “was seeing him on the movie screen. In the darkened theater, the sudden flash of his brilliant, wild, joyful face–radiating great golden beams–filled me with an intoxicating unalloyed pleasure.”

While it may lack the atmospheric magic of a golden age picture house, YouTube provides us with instant access to the classic Disney cartoons of which Maurice was so fond. Check out the 1929 film Mickey’s Choo Choo below, an early black and white short that seems to run on the same punchdrunk surrealism that personified Betty Boop, rather than the character-based humor that took hold after the advent of Donald Duck and Goofy.