Sunday, August 30, 2009

More Mari

“I would like to draw attention to shapes, in reaction to the image bombardment produced by television.” 
Iela Mari, 1968

Enzo Mari met his future wife Iela at Brera Academy in Milan. Towards the end of the
 sixties, Iela started creating children’s books, first alone, then together with her husband.
 Later, while Enzo was busy at work designing toys, objects and furniture, 
Iela became professor at Milan’s Istituto Europeo di Design and continued illustrating 
books on her own. All her creations are wordless narrations of natural cycles and 
playful transformations. Her revolutionary conceptual approach is clean and essential, 
graphically striking and innovative. The following books are published in Italy 
by Babalibri (I have included reference to the titles and publishers 
of the original American editions when available)

Il palloncino rosso, 1967 (The Magic Balloon, S G Phillips)

Iela Mari’s first book, Il palloncino rosso, describes the metamorphosis 
of a chewing gum bubble with a minimalist language made of white space, 
black line drawings and simple red shapes.

L’albero, 1968 (The Tree and the Seasons, Barrons Juveniles) 
photos from PAUL's flickr photostream

In her following books, Iela Mari explores the world of nature with her innovative eye: 
“… one needs to start with analysis in order to arrive at synthesis, not the other way around. 
For example, one needs to first draw all the details in a leaf and then erase, erase, erase…”

L’uovo e la gallina, 1969, with Enzo Mari (The Chicken and the Egg, Pantheon Books)

“During the war, in Milan, we were hungry. I raised chicken, I know how chicks are born! 
I also love looking at the growth of my green plants. The landscape doesn’t interest me.
 What I enjoy, is to lay on the ground in the woods, to feel an ant climbing, 
feel myself being pushed by the roots.”

La mela e la farfalla, 1970, with Enzo Mari (The Apple and the Moth, Pantheon Books)

Hopefully, this post will be followed by one on Mari's later books, 
if I can get a hold of them! Some are currently published in Spain and Japan...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sunday Safari - Peeps into Zoo-land

Lovely preys abound in the wildlife preserves of bloggerland:

Vintage children's book covers, from BibliOdyssey

Wire sculptures by Susan Graham, from Kickcans and Conkers

Felt bunnies by Hut up, from Kickcans and Conkers

Miniature felted dog portraits by Amelia Santiago,

Baconfish by Hamburgerpanda, from Aqua-Velvet

The Rain Puddle by Roger Duvoisin, from Moonflygirl
Barbar by Ikea, from Madame Bidule

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Enzo Mari's playful simplicity

The shapes of toys must be based on archetypal images, and these images must be realized
 with the highest possible quality and not in the style of “children’s drawings.”

Mari is one of the most respected and influential Italian product designers, and also 
a thoughtful visual artist, teacher and writer. At 22, while working at my first 
graphic design job in the milanese studio of Andrea Rovatti, a former student of Mari, 
I had the privilege of meeting the great man. Alas! at the time I knew that he was famous,
 but was unaware of his rationalist design philosophy and body of work. 
But I was familiar with at least one of his creations, the Sedici Animali puzzle, 
since it had been given to me as a child.

This wooden toy was designed in 1957 for the Italian company Danese, and has gone
 through a number of re-editions in different materials since. At first, I was a bit surprised
 when I saw the hefty price tag (341 euros) of the contemporary limited edition reissue 
of this modernist classic. But then again, these lovely oak animals are a children’s toy, 
a vintage design icon and a piece of modern sculpture all-in-one! And putting 
the puzzle back together is always a fun challenge, at least for me...

Mari also designed the Sedici Pesci variation.

Using the same 16 animals, Mari went on to create the limited edition children’s book
 L’Altalena in 1961. This wordless accordion book, exploring the concepts of shape,
 quantity, weight and balance, has recently been reprinted by the excellent 
Italian publisher Corraini (pet peeve: on their website they translated the title in english
 “The Swing”, while it’s clearly a see-saw.) Also, it's fun to see that Mari's choice of 
cover colors breaks a well established graphic design taboo: the infamous red text 
on green combination. He was a famous provocateur, so maybe he did it on purpose!

Photos courtesy of Helena Zália at
Mari’s love of simple, archetypal natural shapes also espresses itself 
in his large 1965 serigraphs:

Quattro, la pantera.

Otto, l’oca. Both are on sale at Danese's online shop.

1965 was also the year of The Fable Game, an inventive children’s book-game consisting 
of 46 simple animal and natural figures represented on both sides of six separate boards.
 These can be pieced together in an endless variety of combinations, stimulating 
creativity, storytelling and imaginative play. The Fable Game has also been reissued 
by Corraini. In 2007 the publisher organized a nice exhibition at lCasina di Raffaello 
in Rome, where the game was enlarged child-size, becoming a small labyrinth 
or theatre stage that children could rearrange and reinvent at will.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Browsing Beautiful Bird Books in Britain

We just flew home from our London vacation. In the city's well stocked bookstores (Magma on Earlham street was one of our favorites), we have come across some remarkable illustrated books that I would like to recommend to all bird lovers:

Counting Birds, by the British illustrator Alice Melvin.
A charming counting book for small children populated by peacocks, geese, pheasants, and other familiar birds.

Counting Birds, by the British illustrator Alice Melvin.
A charming counting book for small children populated by peacocks, geese, pheasants, and other familiar birds.

... and finally, this was the first time I held Charley Harper's Birds and Words in my hands. I have been in love with Harper's "minimal realist" art ever since I discovered it on the web. This gorgeous reprint of the 1974 original includes 61 bird illustrations, fifty of which first appeared in Ford Times magazine during the 1950's (check out a well researched article on the Charley Harper website if you'd like to find out more). I will have to buy it on the web, since our luggage was already too heavy – I do hope this is the last time we fly low cost!


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