Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tomi Ungerer Illustrates Children's Books

When Tomi Ungerer lived in Greenwich Village in New York City in the 1960s he and his friend Jules Feiffer both did edgy, sometimes sexually explicit work for the Village Voice and Playboy magazine. Both now also do charming children's books of a much friendlier and tamer nature. Ungerer, who has lived in Ireland for the last 25 years, came to NYC in 1956 at the age of 25 from his home in Alsace, France. With little formal education Ungerer nonetheless speaks, reads and writes books in English, German and French as a result of growing up in Alsace. He writes all of his children's books in English even though many are also printed in other languages.

In an impromptu drawing demonstration with some excited children (right) at the Phaidon Book Store in NYC, Ungerer used a small pair of scissors (held up by his thumb) to form the eyes and beak of a bird he completed with marker. He had already demonstrated the differences between drawing an elephant and a pig by changing the tail, feet, ears and nose. Cutting off the elephant's trunk to form the pig's snout created little sausage slices that then became the nose and eyes, and even the buttons, of the pig. The lowest button is a bit different because, as the children guessed, it is a "belly button". In the center is a little pig on the bank of a river in response to a request to draw a "piggy bank". (click on the image to see the details)

Tomi Ungerer is the only living French artist to have a museum dedicated to him. Musée Tomi Ungerer/Centre international de l’illustration is a museum in Strasbourg where he was born. Opened in November 2007, it displays 8,000 graphic works of all kind by Ungerer and some of his most famous colleagues (Saul Steinberg, Ronald Searle, André François...) as well as Ungerer's large collection of ancient toys.

The museum is spread over three floors of a French villa. The ground floor is dedicated to Ungerer's work as a children's book illustrator, the first floor is dedicated to his work as a political caricaturist and satirical cartoonist. The basement—not accessible for children—is dedicated to his erotic and semi-pornographic drawings.

Ungerer and his colleagues are often referred to as cartoonists but somehow their work doesn't seem to fit that description. They are sometimes referred to as satirical or political cartoonists. Ungerer was impressed by the work of Saul Steinberg because the work conveyed humor and imagination without the use of words.

Click on the heading above to see images of the collection at Musée Tomi Ungerer/Centre international de l’illustration.

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