The Wild Illustrator.



We all have to find our way.’ Maurice Sendak

The next time I pass a bookshop I have a mission, to buy a copy of the world reknown and loved ‘Where the wild things are’ written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Why? Because I want to rediscover how he translated his ideas and existential experience into picture books for children, his lifetime joy being to make pictures – ” to make pictures is magic time”. When I read the article written by his friend the playwright Tony Kushner I was moved by the depth of feeling he provoked, and by the absolute sense that Maurice Sendak was someone who thought deeply , had found his place in becoming an author and illustrator and had something worthwhile to say to the world. He chose to say it to children, and through them to all of us. The brilliance of the man is his capacity to retain and capture the diabolical world of childhood. The world of unreason , of unlimited possibility, one that encompasses the passions of fear, creativity and transendence. He affirms the human experience within all of us without sentimentality. The world is brutal and the world is beautiful. He shares both states with his readers , rejecting the commonplace drive to sanitise or patronise. He wants to be truthful and this is the trait I most admire. To be truthful is to risk. Children question the adults around them , and make enquiry about adult behaviours that disturb and provoke change. Their ability to distinguish the real from the fake is indisputable and it is this clarity that can cut through our daily lives and make us adults question our own realities. Maurice Sendak was interested in the real, and that is why is horror is terrible and his humour is funny and his humanity is the hope that runs through his work. When interviewed about his success he had this to say about it, “‘not because i drew better or because I wrote better than anyone else, but because I was more honest than anyone else.’

Maurice Sendak had demons , he was born into a Jewish family , an immigrant family in the Great Depression, and had a background full of hardship married with the emotional background of the Jewish Depression, constantly aware of the burden that produced. “Jewish Depression is that inherited awareness of the arduousness of knowing God, the arduousness of knowing anything, an acute awareness of the struggle to know, the struggle against not knowing; and it is that enduring sense of displacement, yearning for and not securely possessing a home. Maurice’s is a Yiddische kopf, a large, brooding, circumspect and contemplative mind, darkened by both fatalism and faith. (Tony Kushner). He was not formally educated, and I think one of the reasons he managed to retain his deep curiosity for learning is because of that. He used libraries and absorbed knowledge because he pursued the interests he discovered. It is a paradox of our education system that it can so easily remove the desire to learn from students.
Introverted by nature but always delighted by and delightful in  company, he appeared to be a man who guarded his privacy and valued his seclusion. I share this character trait with him, I need a great deal of time alone , to be able to connect with the self that I regard as ‘me’. I know I am me when I am with others, and love engaging with other people’s stories and lives, but I can only recharge by immersing myself in reading, writing, learning. I know others similar to me, but in a world that worships celebrity and entertainment it can be seen as ‘odd’ to prefer the company of oneself. Sendak was a great lover of the poet Emily Dickenson and quotes her lines ‘Don’t open the door, don’t let them in!’ . Like Emily, Sendak chose to close the door on the world for a great part of the time. It released them to live the life that was meaningful to them, through writing, through reading, through illustrating.

So I will leave the last words to him, and hope you find time to watch the short clips of him being interviewed. He appears to me to be a prettty wise man.

Anyone interested to read further about him will find an excellent article in the Guardian by his friend Tony Kushner archived The Guardian, Saturday 6 December 2003

And then there is this interview which is worth watching.

All images from the contemporary Jewish Museum on line here :

I like to hear from you, so tell me what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s