Monday, October 8, 2012

Maira Kalman (Rachel Bigio)

Self-Portrait (Favorite Jacket), 1991 

Maira Kalman’s illustrations first caught my eye as a little girl and have remained a favorite of mine throughout the years. Starting with her book Next Stop Grand Central – a must have for New York’s youngest readers – and continuing through several New Yorker Magazine covers, a celebrated edition of The Elements of Style, and a recent retrospective at the Jewish Museum, Kalman’s stylized illustrations are iconic depictions and social commentaries of city living.

Kalman was born in Tel Aviv in 1950, and moved to New York in 1954. After attending NYU as a literature student, Kalman and her husband founded small graphic design firm M&Co., where they collaborated on projects ranging from textiles, to product design, to album covers, and beyond. Eventually, Kalman realized that illustration was the most suitable medium for her colorful, elaborately captioned style. She parlayed her sense of humor and imagination into writing her own series of children’s books, which captured admirers in parents and children alike. At the same time, The New Yorker selected several of her charming illustrations as prominent cover art.

New Yorkistan, 2001
With Rick Meyerowitz, post 9/11.

In many ways, Kalman’s creative process resembles that of a journalist. It is hard to tell if the story dictates the image or if it is the other way around, but the illustrations and the word play truly combine to convey a narrative. Somehow, Kalman is able to elucidate what she wants the viewer to understand, and still leave room for interpretation and imagination.

The Principles of Uncertainty exemplifies Kalman’s quirky style and desire to merge literature and art. Throughout the book, it becomes clear to the reader that no subject is off limits, and that anything can be interesting when looked at with an open mind.  She experiments, yet her style is consistent.

From Kalman's blog, July 2009, part of "Time Wastes too Fast" series.
She explains (to F. Prose): "I don't ever think I'm being ironic," she says. "I only fall in love. It's never to make fun of something or be cynical or coy; that would be the opposite of what I want to do. I want to tell you: 'saw this fruit platter. I was transported with joy, and now I'm going to do a painting of the fruit platter for you."

Recently Kalman published And the Pursuit of Happiness, a narrative of the history of democracy in America. She is fascinated with political figures and how they present themselves to their constituents, as well as some of the absurdity of elections and the state of politics in America today. The intellectual quality of Kalman's art is part of what makes her so widely appealing; it also enables her to creatively describe so many different levels and facets of the world around her.

I also find it interesting that she has a blog - or as she calls it, a column. Kalman has successfully paved a means for herself to communicate her narratives with the masses, utilizing the Internet as a new medium of sharing her images. In numerous interviews, Kalman asserts that blogging has given her a chance to tap further into her investigative curiosities and desire to discuss current events in a creative way.

What I love most about Maira Kalman, is her ability to mix playfulness and humor with thoughtful comments about the world as she sees it. Her work represents a celebration of small details – giving equal weight and attention to the frivolous and the mundane. And, I love that she is unapologetic about being true to herself – she says: "I think the greatest skill is to find the thing that's most you, and to be able to express it most naturally.”


Kalman, Maira. The Principles of Uncertainty. New York: Penguin, 2007. 

Devereaux, Elizabeth. "Maira Kalman's many muses: her witty allusive picture books spring from a multitude of art forms." Publishers Weekly 27 Sept. 1991: 32+. Academic OneFile. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.

Prose, Francine. "The World According to Maira: Maira Kalman's Recent Observations." Aperture 197 Winter 2009.

No comments:

Post a Comment