Discover the delightful art of Maira Kalman

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk

A year ago my darling 11-year-old dachshund Bentley got very ill and I had to let him go. The empty space he left behind was like a giant canvas with only a dot on it – baffling and overwhelming. Finding joy became as challenging as making sense of abstract art.

Then one day a picture book with a sketch of a dog on the cover was waiting for me on my coffee table. The title read Beloved Dog, and a yellow sticky with my sister’s writing on it directed me to “start here”:

“This book is a compendium of, and tribute to, the many dogs I have encountered over the years, in life and in books.

“They are constant reminders that life reveals the best of itself when we live fully in the moment and extend our unconditional love. And it is very true, that the most tender, uncomplicated, most generous part of our being blossoms, without any effort, when it comes to the LOVE of a DOG.”

These beautiful words – so, so true – were my introduction to the art and writing of Maria Kalman, an American illustrator, writer, artist, and designer.

Beloved Dog is a sampler of Kalman’s writing and art, and I got hooked just a few colourful pages in. Kalman has a delightful way with words, and her humourous and whimsical illustrations build on that. And, of course, there is a dog, Max, who dreams of living in Paris and being a poet. Irresistible!

Heartwarming, witty, and hilarious, Beloved Dog sent me on a Kalman binge. I read and looked at any Kalman book I could put my hands on, including two unusual art books combining photographs from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, Kalman’s paintings, and Daniel Handler’s amusing bits of prose. Here is a sampler from my favourite volume Hurry Up and Wait:

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The simplicity of this MoMA project is a huge part of its charm. Short lines of text link unrelated photographs and Kalman’s paintings, providing brief commentary and subtle humour. A sophisticated comic strip of sorts, each book inspired and challenged me to look at photographs in a new, fun way. What stories can I invent if I look at my photo albums with an eye of a stranger?

Both MoMA books, Hurry Up and Wait and Girls Standing on Laws, are available at the Ottawa Public Library. Check them out and get inspired. What photo comic strips will you come up with? And if you are a dog lover, don’t skip the Beloved Dog!

Thank you, my darling Bentley, for the wonderful years of your art of improvisation, and thank you, sis, for the Kalman binge and all the joy it brought me.

Back to art I go.

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Bentley, you are my beloved dog, my sunshine…I miss you

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