06 MAY, 2014
By: Maria Popova
A celebration of the art of seeing and being seen.
Besides her incontestable talent, what makes beloved artist and illustrator Maira Kalman such a singular creative spirit — full of wisdom on how to live fully and why walking sparks creativity — is her idiosyncratic lens on life. To wit: She is a lifelong collector of vintage photographs fished from flea markets and netted around specific themes — hats, animals, chairs, etc. Among them is “girls standing on lawns,” a category whose delightful richness Kalman discovered in the world’s best-curated flea market for such esoteric gems, the collection of “vernacular” images — everyday snapshots never intended as works of art, made by amateurs and professionals alike — at the Museum of Modern Art. Kalman was so captivated by these photographs that she sent a selection of them to her longtime friend and collaborator Daniel Handler, perhaps better-known under the irreverent persona Lemony Snicket, and he wrote back with simple, charming haiku-like responses to the photographs. Kalman immediately sensed the poetic potential of this impromptu mashup and decided to paint a series of watercolors based on the images.
The result is Girls Standing on Lawns (public library) — the first in a series of enchanting three-way collaborations between Kalman, Handler, and the MoMA, celebrating the art and act of seeing, the poetics of the mundane, and the charm of the esoteric.
One morning we found some photographs. One morning these girls stood on lawns. We looked at the pictures and we got to work.
There’s no use standing around. You should do something.
This is the whole thing.
Forty vintage photographs from MoMA’s collection became the catalyst for Kalman’s impossibly wonderful watercolors and Handler’s lyrical short texts — interpretations, projections, and playful imaginings of the larger lives condensed by these photographs into mere mementos, forgotten and contextless. Under Kalman’s brush and Handler’s pen, these static moments blossom into a dynamic contemplation — isn’t that the definition of art? — of themes like childhood and family, social mores, womanhood, and belonging.
Meet me on the lawn, I want to take a picture of you.
Her sister asked her, maybe. I am making things up. A brother, a sweetheart. He told her how pretty she looks there on the lawn.
He’s not in the picture now.
Perhaps she stood there so she could stand still.
We are all standing for something on this lawn.
It doesn’t have to be a lawn, even. It doesn’t matter. Something else.
Girls Standing on Lawns is absolutely delightful in its entirety. Complement it with Why We Broke Up, a very different but equally captivating Kalman/Handler collaboration, and 13 Words, their lovely children’s book.
Images courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
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