The recent trend of high-quality picturebook biographies is one that I hope will continue, since there’s nothing more edifying than learning about the inspiring lives of real people. These artists’ biographies are particularly apt for the picturebook medium since their life’s work is pictorial by nature. The authors and illustrators of these books have also done a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the artists and their unique visions.
Individually, A Splash of Red is definitely the book with the most depth — for the simple reason that self-taught artist Horace Pippin’s life story is moving and inspirational in so many ways, particularly the severe challenges that he faced and overcame just so he could continue to do what he loved most: make art.
Technically, The Iridescence of Birds is not so much a biography of Henri Matisse, but an exploration of some of the factors in his childhood that could have contributed to making him the artist that he grew up to be, particularly his mother’s nurturing influence. (For a more conventional biography on Matisse, I highly recommend Henri’s Scissors, which we previously reviewed here.)
The Noisy Paint Box is a beautifully realised biography on Vasya Kandinsky, but true to his artistic style, the book’s execution is perhaps the least accessible of the four, especially to children under five, thanks to the rather advanced vocabulary in the text and the abstract idea of the artist’s propensity for ‘hearing’ colours.
In Mary’s Garden was the kids’ unanimous favourite, partly because the authors adopted a simple yet very effective style of telling Mary Nohl’s story, and partly because her unconventional sculptures, which were fashioned by hand from found objects, as well as sand and cement, have a playful, experimental feel that resonates with them.