The Tate Liverpool gallery has a shop – of course – and that is where I found this enchanting gem: I AM MARC CHAGALL by Bimba Landmann.
Tate Liverpool’s special exhibition was about the artist Marc Chagall. The paintings and work were arranged according to themes, not around a time line, which naturally raised more questions about the events in Chagall’s life.
Why? When? How? And what was going on at the same time?
One of the books I bought was not strictly needed. I bought “I Am Marc Chagall” because this picture book biography looked so lovely.
How can I label this book? Picture book? Fiction? No, definitely non-fiction. This is autobiography, real life dressed up as attractively as Lauren Child’s “The Princess and the Pea”.
Bimba Landmann, an artist based in Milan, used Chagall’s autobiography “My Life ” for her text.
So, in this picture book, still in the first person, Chagall talks about his early life in Russia, his struggles to become an artist, his travels to art world of Paris, and the problems caused by wars and politics.
Because Landmann echoes Chagall's “voice”, the language and telling are powerful. This is more than a simple factual account:
“I begged my mother to let me study art.
“What she said. For a Jew to want to be n artist is unheard of!” Finally she took me to an art teacher for his opinion.
The teacher looked at my drawings in silence, thinking. Then he said I had some talent.
That was all I needed to hear. I thought “Painting is as necessary as bread, It is my window so I can fly to another world.”
Just as importantly, Landmann’s illustrations offer the young reader a very clever introduction to his work. Her colour palette is filled with the purples and blues of Chagall’s familiar style. She uses a variety of fabrics, threads, papers, paint and drawing to create a rich and a rustic effect.
There is constant but subtle emphasis on the familiar Chagall imagery: the cow, the cockerel and birds, the peasant carrying wood and, of course, the dreamlike flying figures. Each spread offers delightful three-dimensional collages. They seem at first glance like the figures and settings a child might make for a shoe box house, but they are far finer. One can read the expressions on the faces and the physical postures of the characters, which gives the illustrations have a great emotional and artist-like intensity.
How can I describe this book? It could be read as a bedtime story book for a six year old , but I feel the book would be a wonderful one to use with children from seven to ten. The spreads within I AM MARC CHAGALL are for talking about, for sharing, for using as an inspiration for art projects with a child or a class.
In the hands of a thoughtful adult, this book could be used to help young artists and writers to look around at their own lives and think about their dominant images. In addition, the story holds the threads of history, travel and emigration, of religious customs and the effects of war and politics.
At the moment, the visiting children have not yet visited, so I’m the only one who has read the book. But I’m looking for my paints and painting shirt.
I AM CHAGALL, illustrated by Bimba Landmann, was published in 2006 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. US & Cambridge UK.
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