Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)
by Ingrid Schaffner
This book was published in connection with museum exhibitions of Kalman’s work in 2010. I did not get to see any of those exhibitions, though I think this book reflects the feeling of the museum experience as I’ve heard it described: not a chronological order, or perhaps a readily discernible order, and a bit like wandering around in a delightfully eccentric home.
I have, it should be said, developed a bit of a crush on Maira Kalman.
I’ve been searching out more information about her online — watching videos of Kalman speaking about her work and reading tantalizing bits about her future projects. (An illustrated version of Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas? Yes, please!) I’m struck by her sense of wonder, the way she expresses both sadness and joy in daily events that could be easily overlooked or forgotten, and how she doesn’t seem to have a pretentious bone in her body. Of course there are the striking washes of color, the recognizable but nowhere near photo-realistic renderings of places and people, and the quirky handwriting, too.
I first became aware of Kalman’s work five years ago, when I came across The Principles of Uncertainty in the Strand and I brought it home and loved it. I’m not sure why she’s popping up on my radar again, but I’m grateful she is.
There are many of her books I haven’t read — I learned she’s published many children’s books, too — and no doubt I’ll pick up And the Pursuit of Happiness at some point. This book, unlike her two others aimed at adult audiences, doesn’t have its own narrative, but rather reflects on the many narratives possibilities Kalman has explored. It it definitely worth spending time with, but be warned, it will leave you wanting more.