Monday, August 4, 2008

Eating Gifted Children

I was glad to learn that Phaidon Press is going to re-issue all of the 1950's and 60's children's books of Tomi Ungerer. Ungerer's pioneering illustration style utilized deceptively simple lines and colors to create powerful images that seemed to bubble out of, and back into, a child's subconscious. His haunting and unusual books for kids have been out of print in the U.S. since the 1970's, for a variety of reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of his art - he published a steamy book of interviews with dominatrices at a bordello in Hamburg, printed a series of drawings of bizarre sexual machines called "Fornicon," and was an unabashed critic of the Vietnam War - none of which endeared him to American children's book publishers.

Despite his relative obscurity, Ungerer has been a powerful influence on many of our best known children's book illustrators and graphic designers, including Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak and Milton Glaser. It will be interesting to see whether his books gain a toehold among the fearful American public of the 21st century. I'll certainly buy some for my little one.

One contemporary illustrator who learned many lessons from Ungerer is the Bulgarian-born Luba Lukova. Lukova, who now lives and works in New York, also uses economical lines and juxtaposes unusual images to create unexpected metaphors and capture complex themes. She recently published a portfolio of 12 thought-provoking posters called "Social Justice 2008," a tour-de-force series of deceptively simple, yet formidably brilliant images. Available here.

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