Brain Pickings

Coppernickel Goes Mondrian: A Picture-Book Homage to the Iconic Artist

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A vibrant story of curiosity and optimism by Dutch illustrator Wouter van Reek.

Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) began as a landscape artist, but eventually arrived at the bleeding edge of abstraction. Shortly after his death, during the 1950s and 1960s, his work went on to influence everything from graphic design to architecture to fashion, and is even said to have inspired this classic 1934 dust jacket of Ulysses. And, now, it can shape the way little ones think about the future, life, and the boundless limits of the possible.

Coppernickel Goes Mondrian (public library) by Dutch artist Wouter van Reek is an absolute treasure from my friends at Enchanted Lion Books, who previously gave us Albertine’s Little Bird, Blexbolex’s gems, and the charming Bear Despair. The story introduces Van Reek’s famous Coppernickel character — a quirky and endearing flightless bird in a red cape — and his dog Tungsten to Mr. Quickstep and his dog Foxtrot. Together, they embark upon a quest for the future, navigating Mondrian’s signature grids of primary colors as they make sense of the portal from reality to abstraction and back again, teaching young readers — and reminding those of us who have grown out of believing — that the road between what we dream up to what we actually experience is paved with nothing more and nothing less than self-transformation.

The story of Van Reek’s creative journey is itself utterly fascinating, a case study of cross-disciplinary influence and combinatorial creativity at work:

As a kid Wouter loved Chinese landscape scrolls of mountains and lakes disappearing into the mist, which were sometimes as long as 50 feet. When he let his eye move slowly over them, he felt as though he was in those landscapes, and he wondered if the scrolls were the ancient Chinese way of making movies. When Wouter discovered that Mondrian had written a piece about modern art in the shape of a walk from the country to the city, he knew what he had to do. This book is his way of making an ancient Chinese-style movie about going into the future in the 1940s.

Coppernickel Goes Mondrian is the second in Enchanted Lion’s Coppernickel series, on the heels of the 2008 gem Coppernickel: The Invention, and the first in the Artist Tribute series, paying homage to iconic artists in picture-book form.

Images courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

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