How was 2014 for Tomi Ungerer?
The octogenarian artist, illustrator and author takes a look back at this and reveals what's happening next
Tomi Ungerer might have been awarded an Order of Merit medal by François Hollande at the Élysée Palace in Paris earlier this year, but the 83-year-old Phaidon author, artist and illustrator still has his misgivings. “If I look back at my early work, my insecurities are just dreadful,” he says in this, the first of our end-of-year interviews. “I used to do forty drawings a day, just on one subject.”
Ungerer, who published his first book The Mellops go Flying, over 57 years ago, has spent much the past twelve months preparing for two huge retrospectives: one at New York’s Drawing Center, 16 January – 22 March 2015; and another Kunsthaus Zurich, 30 October 2015 – 7 February 2016.
Nevertheless, he’s also found time to work on a wide selection of children’s books, take in a little contemporary sculpture, and reflect on the merits of making art in later life. Read on to discover what stood out for him in 2014, and what he has planned for next year.
What was the thing that inspired you most this year? I love biographies and books of correspondence, and so I loved In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor. I was also completely blown away by the sculptures of Anthony Caro, which I saw at the Musée Würth France, Erstein. My sculptures are so flighty and superficial in comparison.
What was your personal working highlight this year? I’ve been working on my two exhibitions for next year: one at the Kunsthaus Zurich, and the other at New York’s Drawing Center. I’ve been making sculptures and collages, and I’ve also been writing, writing, writing! I’ve my second volume of aphorisms coming out in both French and German, and I’m finishing a book of poems for children, very much influenced by Edward Lear and Lewis Carol.
What can we expect from you in 2015? I hope to stay alive! I have no plans, or rather I make three or four year plans, every two years; I still want to do a book on witches, for example. Yet get sidetracked easily. Still, for the first time in years I have been really happy with what I’ve been doing. After you get to eighty you’re able to sum it all up and distill it all. Life is a distillery and it's at the end you get a few drops.