You know, its a funny thing when I hear writers talk about writers block. Designers, whether it be a fashion designer or an interior designer, get design block. Why I bring this up? I was on a project, that for the life of me I could not get a vibe on nor get started. At the time, my eldest daughter, who was three then,was in love with a book called,
Swami on Rye! and Ohh-la-la-so, that is where Maria Kalman comes in. I just caught her exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York, and it is fabulous!
I am grateful, as my inspiration for this clients entire house was because of her colored illustrations. Just to fill you in, the client wanted her entire home in shades of purple! I hope you have the opportunity to view this fabulous exhibit!
Maira Kalman was born in Tel Aviv and moved to New York with her family at the age of four. She has worked as a designer, author, illustrator and artist for more than thirty years without formal training. Her work is a narrative journal of her life and all its absurdities.
She has written and illustrated twelve children’s books including Ooh-la-la-Max in Love, What Pete Ate, and Swami on Rye. She often illustrates for The New Yorker magazine, and is well known for her collaboration with Rick Meyerowitz on the NewYorkistan cover in 2001.
Recent projects include The Elements of Style (illustrated), and a monthly on-line column entitled Principles of Uncertainty (2006-07) and The Pursuit of Happiness (2008-09) for The New York Times.
According to Maria Kalman, ”it’s wonderful to wash dishes when you’re trying to write a story.” Trying to live in an unordered house would make her nervous, she says.
But Kalman, an artist whose humor and candid sensitivity have made her a fixture in American illustration, lives, like the rest of us, in a very unordered and chaotic world. In fact, she’s built an artistic career out of making sense of, and editing, and even celebrating, the chaos. An exhibit of her work,
“Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World),”
is currently on show at the Jewish Museum in New York.
Like many cartoonists, Kalman straddles high and low art, her unique writing voice and drawing style adept at addressing a wide audience across a range of forms. Her illustrations appear steadily in prominent newspapers and magazines. She has published many children’s books and an illustrated edition of Strunk & White’s classic composition guide,
“The Elements of Style.” She created two ongoing visual blogs, for the New York Times’ website, later published as books. And her work has graced many a cover of the New Yorker, including a famous image that mapped the various tribal areas of the city (Pashmina on the Upper East Side, Taxistan in Queens,
Khandibar in Brooklyn) a few months
after September 11th, while the city was still shaken up, but intact in its diversity.
Kalman’s first blog for the New York Times, “The Principles of Uncertainty,” was a meditation on questions of happiness, purpose, loss and her own personal history. Photographs, paintings, and loopy, handwritten text interrogate legacies of the past. Kalman moves from an illustration of an older
woman with three bobby pins directly
to a painting of a library flattened during the London blitz, with the following caption:
Then the all-clear sounded. And people returned, hope undiminished. They returned, so elegant and purposeful to the books. What does this have to do with bobby pins and radiators and Kokoshniks? One thing leads to another.
Kalman’s second series for the Times also explored history and philosophy, but she focused intentionally on a topic she knew less about: American democracy.
“I was sent on this assignment because I didn’t know anything about politics, so I would bring a naivete, but also a sense of optimism and a sense of curiosity to the subject,” she says.
Kalman handles large questions about leadership and patriotism by focusing on the daily routines of the Founding Fathers and the objects that gave texture to their lives. She becomes fascinated by Abraham Lincoln and asks Ruth Bader Ginsburg about where she gets her robes
and lace collars (some are from Paris). The result is a deeply empathetic
treatment of justice, citizenship and American politicians past and present.
This past year saw the first major museum survey, which showcases the range of her illustrations. In addition to 100 works on paper, the exhibit features embroideries and photographs, as well as an installation of belongings that have been immortalized in her work.