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Happy 80th Birthday, Tomi

By July 4, 2011Uncategorized

French-born Tomi Ungerer has written close to 150 books for children and adults. He has been described as an “archivist of human absurdity” and as “the most famous book author you have never heard of.” (His classics—The Three Robbers, Crictor the Boa Constrictor, Moon Man—were all recently reissued by Phaidon.) To celebrate his 80th year, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass, is holding a big retrospective until October 9, 2011.

On looking at his old work:
I’m never satisfied with the artwork. I desperately draw and draw and I want it to be perfect… I am much less insecure than I used to be, though. It’s taken me 60 years to polish my act. Now instead of writer’s block I have only chips on my shoulders.

On his method:
I like to call things what they are. I never say “a tree”; I say “a willow.” I never say “a carriage”; I say “a tilbury.” Adults always talk to children like [little squeaky voice] “yipity yipity yipity.” We have to take children seriously.

On his decision not to use modern illustration tools (i.e. graphic tablets, Photoshop):
I have to use my hands! I make my own furniture. I used to have a forge, and an anvil. I haven’t been able to acclimate myself to all the modern electronics… It’s really ephemeral. I need my solid values here: paper, pen, tools, elements. The most important things I own are books. I love them: I love the page, even the smell of the book, the sensuousness of them.

On his work as an editorial cartoonist:
I’ve always been politically engaged; when I was in the U.S. I protested segregation and the Vietnam war. Every artist should have some causes to fight for—or fight against.
(From Publishers Weekly.)

The New York Times also just ran a nice tribute to Ungerer. To read more about why he sees himself as an “instigator” and a “pedagogues’ nightmare,” click here: