Archive for Surrealism

Avant-Garde Children’s Books; or, What I Learned in Sweden Last Week

There are a lot of modernist children’s books, and a fair few directly influenced by the historical avant-garde — and, yes, I am sharing images, below.  I learned about these books (and a great deal more) last week at Children’s Literature and the European Avant-Garde, a conference at Linköpings University, in Norrköping, Sweden.  You would think that the author of a book with two chapters on the intersection between the avant-garde and children’s literature might be better acquainted with this body of work.  But I wasn’t.  As I listened to the international group of scholars speak, I often found myself thinking: Wow! Why didn’t I know this artist’s work?

  1. One answer was well, Phil, because you’re an American, and so unfamiliar with the Icelandic avant-garde or Hungarian modernism.
  2. But another, and equally important answer, was that this is the nature of specialized research: people uncover material that others do not, hidden in archives, long forgotten, … or from another field and never yet considered in this context.  This is one reason we go to conferences.
  3. Finally, there is very little written on children’s literature and the avant-garde.  It’s safe to say that this conference gathered together the largest group of people investigating this subject.

For your enjoyment, here is some of the art.  Following that, brief reflections on the conference itself.


Salvador Bartolozzi
Salvador Bartolozzi's Pinocho Boxeador (1929)
The conference program took its cover image from Pinocho Boxeador (1929), one of 48 booklets featuring Pinocho (based on Collodi’s character, Pinocchio).  As Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer told us, the artist was Salvador Bartolozzi (1882-1950), an anti-Fascist poster designer who fled Spain in 1939.  For more images, see 50 Watts‘ post on Bartolozzi’s Pinocho.

Lou Loeber
Gouden Vlinders by S. Franke, with art by Lou Loeber
Saskia de Bodt introduced us to Dutch modernist picture books, including Lou Loeber’s de Stijl experiment, Gouden Vlinders [Golden Butterflies] (1927).  Loeber’s style (stijl!) put me strongly in mind of the Tangrams I played with in the 1970s.
Gouden Vlinders by S. Franke, with art by Lou Loeber
Gouden Vlinders by S. Franke, with art by Lou Loeber

Wouter van Reek

Wouter Van Reek, Keepvogel en Kijkvogel: In Het Spoor Van Mondrian (2011)

Wouter van Reek’s Keepvogel en Kijkvogel: In Het Spoor Van Mondriaan (2011) — also introduced to us by Saskia de Bodt — has also been published in English as Coppernickel Goes Mondrian (2012).  This is one of many books I’ve added to my “to buy” list.

Wouter Van Reek, Coppernickel Goes Mondrian (2012)

Wouter van Reek's Keepvogel en Kijkvogel: In Het Spoor Van Mondrian (2011): interior 2-page spread


Bauhaus toys!

Michael Siebenbrodt, of the Bauhaus Museum Weimar, showed us (photos of) lots of Bauhaus toys and children’s furniture, such as Peter Keler’s Wiege (1922), a cradle — which, he told us, is weighted at the bottom so that it won’t roll all the way over.

Peter Keler, Wiege (1922)

Lyonel Feninger — modernist painter and creator of the Kin-der-Kids comic (1906) — created many toys, mostly (as I recall) for his kids or friends.

Lyonel Feininger: toys

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack’s top (designed in the 1920s) is still in production.  It’s available from the Naef Store.  That’s a link to the US version of the store, in the previous sentence: for other locations, try Naef’s main website.

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, top


Einar Nerman

Would someone please reissue Einar Nerman’s children’s books?  As Elina Druker told us, Nerman (1888-1983) was a Swedish caricaturist strongly influenced by Art Nouveau.  His picture books are largely unknown today, but they look fantastic.  There’s the beautiful Crow’s Dream (1911), in which animals take over and rule a city — a satirical commentary on our treatment of animals and of each other.  I can’t find images of that on-line, but the great illustration blog 50 Watts has images from Fairy Tales from the North (1946), a few of which I’ll include below.

Einar Nerman, Fairy Tales (1946)

Einar Nerman, Fairy Tales (1946)

Einar Nerman, Fairy Tales (1946)


Samuil Marshak and Vladimir Lebedev

Marshak and Lebedev, Yesterday and Today (1931)

Because I was moderating this session, I failed to take many notes on Sara Pankenier Weld‘s insights into poet Marshak and artist Lebedev.  I can tell you that the above title, in English, is Yesterday and Today.  Also worth noting: MoMA has just published an English-language edition of Marshak and Lebedev’s Baggage (1926).

Marshak and Lebedev, Baggage (1926, English translation 2012)

During this same session, Evgeny Steiner juxtaposed US and Soviet books that seemed to mirror each other.

Slide from Evgeny Steiner's presentation

As I said above, my moderating prevented me from getting many notes taken.  But, here (above) is one slide, at least!


Sandor Bortnyik

Sandor Bortnyik only created one children’s book, the title of which Samuel Albert translated as Spot and Dot’s Adventurous Journey (shown below, published 1929).

Sandor Bortnyik, Die Wunderfahrt

There are apparently several versions of this, one of which has nonsensically playful verse — if I remember correctly, this version has neither been published nor translated.  A Hungarian modernist, Bortnyik created posters, advertisements, and paintings.  He was a major artist, but I’d never heard of him until hearing Albert’s talk.


Kurt Schwitters

While we’re in the 1920s, I must here mention — as Hadassah Stichnothe and others did — the typographical delight that is Kurt Schwitters’ Die Scheuche (The Scarecrow, 1925).

Kurt Schwitters, Die Scheuche (1925)

Kurt Schwitters, Die Scheuche (1925)

A collection of Schwitters’ fairy tales, plus a full English version of the above appears in Schwitters’ Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales (translated by Jack Zipes, 2009).


Otto and Marie Neurath’s ISOTYPE children’s books

Today, we’re familiar with silhouetted figures on signs, or graphs that use as a unit of measurement the image of the item measured.  Until hearing Hanna Melse’s paper, I didn’t know about the children’s books inspired by this pictorial language — which was named ISOTYPE (for International System Of TYpographic Picture Education).  Looking at the pictures, I thought that Chris Ware and Mark Newgarden would be especially interested — each image speaks with great economy and clarity, which is a stylistic trait they both admire.

Marie Neurath, Wonders of the Modern World (1948)

above: Marie Neurath, Wonders of the Modern World (1948)

Neurath, Tips for tots: An ISOTYPE Book on the Seasons (1944)

above: Otto and Marie Neurath, Tips for Tots (1944)

To learn more, see the ISOTYPE Revisited exhibit.


The Avant-Garde’s Legacy in French Children’s Literature

Nathalie Parain, ronds et carrés (1932)

above: Nathalie Parain, ronds et carrés (round and square, 1932)

Sandra Beckett‘s discussion of the avant-garde and its legacy in French children’s literature was my favorite presentation.  It gave me a greater understanding of French children’s literature’s willingness to take risks and push boundaries (in contrast to, say, American children’s literature).  Beyond the paper’s thesis, I was intrigued by the books — some which I will seek for my own library, and others for my niece Emily’s Library.

Edy-Legrand, Macao et Cosmage ou l'experience du bonheur (1919)

above and below: Edy-Legrand, Macao et Cosmage ou l’experience du bonheur (1919).  Sandra Beckett calls it “the most visually daring work of an artist who would go on to become one of the premier illustrators of the 20th Century.”  Edy-Legrand was only 18 at the time he created the book.

Edy-Legrand, Macao et Cosmage ou l'experience du bonheur (1919)

Evgeny Steiner would likely (and correctly) point out that Edy-Legrand’s images are more Art Nouveau than strictly surreal, but I presume that readers of this blog post won’t mind.

Lise Deharme, Le Coeur de Pic. Illustré de vingt photographies par Claude Cahun (1937)

Above: Lise Deharme, Le Coeur de Pic, illustrated with photographs by Claude Cahun (1937).  Andre Breton, Man Ray, and other surrealists admired this book.  In his foreword to Le Coeur de Pic, Paul Eulard wrote, “The book has the age that you want to have.”

Parain, Mon Chat (1930)

Above: Nathalie Parain, Mon chat (1930).  You can also read the book in its entirety here.

El Lissitzky, About Two Squares (1922)

Sandra suggested that El Lissitzky’s About Two Squares (1922, above) influenced Anne Bertier’s Mercredi (2010, below).

Anne Bertier, mercredi (2010)

This book (above) looks great & will definitely be joining Emily’s Library.

Moving into the 1960s and 1970s, publisher Harlan Quist’s pop art children’s books — also a focus of Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer’s talk — are all (or nearly all) out of print.  Many Quist books bring to mind Heinz Edelmann’s work (he was art director on Yellow Submarine), though not all do.

Albert Cullum, The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On (1971)

above: Albert Cullum, The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On (Quist, 1971).  The book has 30 illustrations, each one by a different artist.  Here’s the one by Nicole Claveloux:

Nicole Claveloux's illustration for Albert Cullum's The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died but Teacher You Went Right On

And one by Cathy Deter:

Cathy Deter's illustration for Albert Cullum's The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died but Teacher You Went Right On

One by Gerald Failly:

Gerald Failly's illustration for Albert Cullum's The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died but Teacher You Went Right On

You can find many more pictures from The Geranium on the Windowsill… at Codex 99‘s post on the book (my source for the above images).

Eugène Ionesco & Etienne Delessert, Contes 1 2 3 4

above: Eugène Ionesco and Etienne Delessert, Contes 1 2 3 4 (originally published 1969-1973), and recently republished in English as Stories 1 2 3 4 (McSweeney’s, 2012).

Eugène Ionesco and Etienne Delessert, Contes 1 2 3 4

above: another illustration from Eugène Ionesco and Etienne Delessert, Contes 1 2 3 4.

Jules Walker Danielson has an extensive post on and interview with Etienne Delessert, which I recommend to you for further reading.

Peignot & Constantin, Au pied de la lettre

above: Jérôme Peignot and Robert Constantin, Au pied de la lettre (2003). Photo of slide created by Sandra Beckett.


Pop Art Children’s Books

I do realize that some of the above cross over into “Pop Art,” but since these next few images are from Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer’s talk (“Just what is it that makes pop art picturebooks so different, so appealing?”), I thought I’d give us a new section title.

Peter Blake's version of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1972)

above: Peter Blake’s version of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1972).

Inspired by Heinz Edelmann, Peter Max created The Land of Yellow (1970), The Land of Red (1970), and The Land of Blue (1970).

Peter Max, The Land of Yellow (1970)

above: Peter Max, The Land of Yellow (1970).

Peter Max, The Land of Blue (1970) and The Land of Red (1970)

above: Peter Max, The Land of Blue and The Land of Red (both 1970).  Photo of Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer’s slide.

Etienne Delessert, How the Mouse Was Hit on the Head by a Stone and so Discovered the World (1971)

above: two-page spread from Etienne Delessert’s How the Mouse Was Hit on the Head by a Stone and so Discovered the World (1971).  Original image on 50 Watts.


A Very British Avant-Garde

In her “A Very British Avant-Garde,” Kim Reynolds presented the results of the kind of archival research required to figure out just where these avant-garde books for children are being produced.  To a one, I had never heard of any of the books she talked about.

Jean de Bosschere's The City Curious (1920)

Kim reports that The Little Review called Jean de Bosschère’s The City Curious (1920) “a sinister little story.”

Jean de Bosschere's The City Curious (1920): The City Curious

Jean de Bosschere's The City Curious (1920): The Eggs running along

above: images from  Jean de Bosschère’s The City Curious (1920).  You can see more images from the book here.

Enid Bagnol, Alice and Thomas and Jane (1930)

above: my rather blurry photo of Kim’s slide featuring Enid Bagnol’s Alice and Thomas and Jane (1930).

Edith Saunders, Fanny Penquite (1932)

above: Edith Saunders, Fanny Penquite (1932).  This more obscure title was published Oxford University Press and, as I recall, Kim was unable to find more information about the book’s author.

Lewitt-Him, The Football's Revolt (1939)

above: Lewitt-Him, The Football’s Revolt (1939) — a book about a football that decides it no longer wants to be kicked about!

Bertrand Russell, The Good Citizen's Alphabet, with drawings by Franciszka Themerson (1953)

above: Bertrand Russell, The Good Citizen’s Alphabet, with drawings by Franciszka Themerson (1953).


I’ve left out a lot here, including Sirke Happonen‘s fascinating discussion of the production of Tove Jansson’s innovative Hur gick det sen? (1952) — the title means What Happened Next?, but the English translation bears the title The Book About Moomin, Mimble, and Little My.  And Olga Holownia’s award-winning presentation on the Icelandic avant-garde (which doesn’t really get going until the 1950s…!).  But the preceding, at least, offers a glimpse at some of the children’s books we learned about.

What’s harder to capture is the camaraderie of the event.  There were no competing sessions.  So, people from 25 countries all spent the better part of three days together.  Wisely, the organizers scheduled coffee breaks every couple of hours, and arranged for us all to have lunch together at the Museum of Work— a short walk from the conference venue.  Alas, there was little time to explore Norrköping, but we had evenings free.  I very much enjoyed hanging out with Kim Reynolds, Sandra Beckett, Olga Holownia, Nina Christensen, Sara Pankenier Weld, Anna Czernow, Evgeny Steiner, Samuel Albert, and many others whose names I should be mentioning here (apologies for omissions!).

Children's Literature and the European Avant-Garde, Norrköping, Sweden. Sept. 2012. Photo by Allegra Roccato.

Thanks to Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, Elina Druker, Maria Nikolajeva for organizing it.  Thanks to Allegra Roccato (who also took the above photograph) and the European Science Foundation for providing administrative and financial support.

And, coming up in my next post…: a few words on Tove Jansson’s Moomins, who are (inexplicably!) largely unknown in America.


Correction, 17 Oct. 2012, 5:25 pm.  Samuel Albert informs me that Bortnyik did not write the (unpublished) nonsensically playful verse for the book.  So, I’ve struck the words “by Bortnyik himself.”

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David Bowman, Surrealist & Satirist

David Bowman, Bunny ModernDavid Bowman — the writer, not the character in 2001: A Space Odyssey — died on February 27.  He was 54.  His obituary ran in this past Sunday’s Times.  He and I have had an on-and-off correspondence since the fall of 2000.  Upon reading his obituary, I realized (guiltily) that I’d failed to answer his last email (from November 2011).  It was a brief query, sent without much context.  I’m tempted to say that its pithy, unexpected appearance is representative of his work, but I may be oversimplifying.  He wrote:

Dear Phil,

Do you have kids?

I write to you to inquire about an experience that many children crave:

Being re-read the same story.

Have you ever come across a writer, esp. a child psychologist, who has explained just ‘why’ a child would want to hear the same story over & over?

Much thanks!

yrs. David Bowman, Manhattan

I’m not sure if he was just curious or whether this was for an article he was writing. I know that my delay in responding stemmed from needing to think about the question: had I come across such a piece?  Where would I look to find that information?

My David Bowman email folder has other queries, most of them similarly brief & thought-provoking.  He once said he would send me chapters of a novel-in-progress he was writing.  That never came to pass, but he did send me a description of the planned book — a detective novel told by an ex-KGB Russian defector named Simon Odarchenko who now works for Yoko Ono, cataloguing John Lennon’s thousands of hours of studio tapes.  And he sent me the table of contents for Why Don’t We Do It in The Road?: Encounters with the Notorious & Renown, a book that (as far as I know) was never published.  He also sent occasional verse, and brief observations, such as this one, from a 28 May 2007 email:

A. I am finally reading Proust.

B. Last week a New Yorker named Harvey Weinstein died at age 82. In 1993 Weinstein was kidnapped & kept for 12 days in a “barrel-shaped” pit near the Hudson river. He appears to had a little water & some crackers, but that was it. He had no light.

C. His obituary quotes his son as saying, “Dad said he maintained his composure during those 12 days in the pit by writing what he called the ‘greatest autobiography NEVER written.’ Every day he took a year in his life & recounted it out loud.”

Was Weinstein not the reincarnation of Proust minus the cork-lined walls?

That, I think, is more representative of David Bowman: Insight drawn from absurdity.  Succinct, strange, and true.

We “met” via email, and apart from one or two phone conversations, always communicated via email.  I taught his Bunny Modern (1998), a dystopian satire featuring gun-toting nannies and dwindling fertility rates, in my Fall 2000 “Readings in Contemporary American Novels” class.  He came across my syllabus on the web, and sent me an email:

Dear Prof. Nel,

I am honored to discover that you are including my novel BUNNY MODERN as reading material in one of your English classes. Will students be tested on BUNNY MODERN? Will they have to write papers? If I can do anything to help you present my novel to your students, please let me know.

All the best,

David Bowman

I asked him if we might send him some questions.  He very graciously supplied detailed answers — he was quite expansive, and the email must have taken him a long while to compose.  Also, it was really cool.  Here I was, my first semester on the tenure-track, corresponding with a contemporary novelist.  Wow!

Since I was then a DeLillo scholar, one topic of conversation was DeLillo’s work.  Indeed, prior to The Body Artist‘s publication, he sent me bound galleys c/o “the Mystik Brotherhood of Don DeLillo” at my office address.  I sent him photocopies of the Uncollected Short Fiction of Don DeLillo (some of which were collected last year in The Angel Esmerelda: Nine Stories, but many of which haven’t been collected).

A couple of years later, when I was writing Dr. Seuss: American Icon, I asked him about Bunny Modern‘s dedication to “Dr. Spock, Dr. Seuss, and Jonathan Lethem, M.D.” because I was (and am) interested in how Seuss circulates in popular culture: When people talk about Seuss, what do they mean?  He responded:

As for Dr. Seuss–– I knew that I was going to dedicate the book to Lethem. And I do not know anything about children, so I was referring to baby books––including Dr. Spock. Lethem and I took drugs one night and decided that everything we saw was going to be from Dr. Seuss. Later on, I just thought about the “Dr.” bit––Dr. Spock and Dr. Seuss. Then I decided to dedicate the book to Dr. Spock, Dr. Seuss and Jonathan Lethem MD.

In the book, I connected his response to the tendency to associate Seuss with mind-altering drugs, and then to Seuss’s own many jokes about same (mostly booze, for Seuss).

David Bowman was an original, a unique voice in American letters.  In the Times‘ obituary, Jonathan Lethem wisely cites Nathanael West as Bowman’s closest literary kin.  That’s an apt comparison: both have a fondness for odd juxtapositions and surreal imagery.  I’m sure West influenced Bowman, but what’s striking is how he absorbed and transformed so many very different influences: West, Richard Brautigan, Emily Dickinson, Dashiell Hammett.  That such different people could have such a deep influence on one creative mind is key to what made Bowman’s work so compelling and unusual.

Is that unusualness, then, why the third Bowman novel has yet to arrive?  After Let the Dog Drive (1992) and Bunny Modern (1998), he published a non-fiction title: This Must Be the Place: The Adventures of Talking Heads in the Twentieth Century (2001).  The British title, his preferred title, is even better: Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa: The Adventures of Talking Heads in the Twentieth Century. (His U.S. publisher scotched that idea, fearing it was too absurdist, and thus un-marketable.)  He did a lot of journalism, publishing pieces in Salon, the New York Times, the Village Voice, and elsewhere.  But no other books appeared. Were his book-length works too absurdist for mainstream publishing?  Will they published posthumously?  Also, will there be an archive of his papers?  I’d be glad to donate our email correspondence.  (To whom should one pose these questions?)

To conclude, a brief response to Mr. Bowman’s last email to me.

Dear David,

Apologies for the delay in my reply.  Busy-ness has made me a delinquent correspondent. I’m sorry about that. I’m especially sorry that this reply is so late that I’m sending it when you yourself are “late” — though I expect you’d appreciate the irony.

To answer your question: no, I do not have children. I think child psychology is a place to seek the answer to your query. I also think that childhood studies might be a route to pursue. Is this question for an article or book you’re writing? I’d be glad, on your behalf, to make some queries to friends who work in childhood studies.  Just say the word!

Finally, thanks for our epistolary acquaintance. Your emails arrived in my inbox as welcome bursts of surreality and insight. I’m tempted to ask you whether (as David Byrne sings) the band in Heaven is playing your favorite song, playing it once again, playing it all night long.  But, then, if Byrne is right: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”  I’ve never been sure quite what that line means — Heaven as solitude, Heaven as imaginary, or Heaven as boring.  Any hints?

Thanks & godspeed,

Phil

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The exquisite corpse will drink the new cappuccino

Half-way through the “Surrealism: The Poetry of Dreams” exhibit at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) here in Brisbane, museum-goers encounter this:

Exquisite Corpse Bar at GoMA

A clever riff on the Surrealist game that exploits the mysteries of accidental juxtapositions, this mid-exhibit bar also offered a welcome rest to travel-weary visitors (such as your humble narrator, who visited the exhibit following a 15-hour flight from Dallas-Ft. Worth).  Should you find yourself in Brisbane prior to 2 October 2011, the GoMA exhibit on Surrealism is excellent, bringing in not only the usual suspects (Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio De Chirico, Max Ernst, Jean Arp, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray), but also some whose art is not as well known (Victor Brauner, André Masson, Dora Maar) and Surrealism’s legacy in works by Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Dorothea Tanning and Joseph Cornell.

A particular strength of the exhibit are the half-dozen or so surrealist films interspersed (and continuously running) throughout the exhibit, such as the classic (and disturbing) Buñuel-Dalí collaboration Un Chien Andalou:

GoMA is also hosting a range of events in conjunction with the exhibit.

Surrealism for KidsSince I’m in town to attend the International Research Society for Children’s Literature’s bi-annual conference, I should also mention that the exhibit has created kid-friendly captions for some of the artworks, and has created an interactive on-line component, The Surrealist Chronicle.  Available for perusing near the Exquisite Corpse snack bar (pictured above) and for sale at the museum store, the book Surrealism for Kids also invites children to deploy surrealist techniques to explore their creativity.

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