July 9, 2009

Brian Wildsmith Overdrive


Given world enough and time, I guess I could get all deep into the children's illustration world to find the really incredible stuff. Then maybe I might have already known about Brian Wildsmith, a British illustrator and author whose lush, saturated style totally surprised me the other day at a library sale table.

Wildsmith had illustrated a few other titles for Oxford Press before his 1962 ABC won a Kate Greenaway Medal [a British children's illustration award that was only begun in 1955, so it wasn't quite as Caldecott as it has become].


I found his 1964 version of Mother Goose, and the watery depth and complexity of his drawings really blew me away. While flipping through just now to find an example to shoot, I realized I wanted to find a really psychedelic one, but in fact, the muted ones are even better--just not in small webpix.

In 1964 in England, they were still including some of the problematic Mother Goose rhymes, too, so there's plenty of whipping and beating to explain away.


As Wildsmith got more and more popular, his style kind of crisped up. His Professor Noah's Spaceship was published in 1980, but it still takes a healthy 70's crying Indian attitude to the problem of pollution. There's also a bit of Wall*E and Planet of the Apes thrown in for good measure. While Wildsmith still some limpid spots in Wildsmith's intensely colored drawings, most of it is pretty sharp-edged and Colorform-flat.


Wildsmith's apparently big in Japan, has his own little museum and everything. Whether that popularity came about before or after 1996, when he was selected to illustrate Katie and the Dream-Eater, a children's folktale written by Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamodo, who is married to the current emperor's cousin, I can't say.


A dream-eater, known as a baku, is popular in Japanese folklore, and when the book was published, HIH's third and youngest daughter would've been around 5-yo, so I expect it was a hit. But while Western librarians raved over Wildsmith's art, which look to be even more drawing than painting, they were not awed by the princess's apparently elliptical narrative style. Who knows, it may just be a cultural thing. I find that a lot of Japanese children's books are driven more by atmosphere or picture than by plot developments. I see HIH published another kid's book in 1998, so it must not have been a total embarrassment.

Wildsmith's Amazon results are kind of daunting. If anyone has a recommendation of a favorite title or a dud, please chime in below.

Buy Brian Wildsmith's A.B.C., Mother Goose, or Professor Noah's Spaceship, which is much more than the $0.25 I paid. [amazon]
Museum of Brian Wildsmith Picture Book Art, Shizuoka [metm.co.jp, via brianwildsmith.com]
Check out Katie and the Dream-Eater in English or the original Japanese version [amazon, amazon jp]

1 Comment

i was looking for my family ( wildsmith )history on the internet when i found this if brian ever sees this i want him to reply back as im going to do a report on my family history . it will help me no end to find out about brian and his illistrations are amazing GO BRIAN!!!!!

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