Working as an illustrator, author, and designer, Maira Kalman illuminates contemporary life with a profound sense of joy and a unique sense of humor.
Kalman speaks of her work as a form of journalism. She uses writing and drawing to render an ongoing account of the world as she sees it. Hers is a daily discipline of creativity based on photography, travel, research, walking, talking, and open observation. A serious love of distraction pervades. Abundant depictions of fashion, food, art, and architecture represent life’s great pleasures. At the same time rubber bands, pieces of moss, bobby pins, and snacks stake a claim for smaller forms of satisfaction. All of this might seem pretty trivial were it not for the counterweight of history, memory, and loss that is also ever-present. Chaos is another constant, be it crazy and madcap or simply devastating.
Indeed, it is her work’s gift to illuminate those things that affirm our own capacity for joy, sadness, humor, charm. In short, Kalman’s art inspires our humanity in light of life’s overwhelming events and details.
Maira Kalman (b. 1949 Tel Aviv, lives New York) is the author of twelve children’s books including Ooh-la-la (Max in Love). Among her adult classics are The Elements of Style, an illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s timeless grammar, and The Principles of Uncertainty, a picture book of essays based on a yearlong online column for The New York Times. She has just completed a second online epic for The Times titled And the Pursuit of Happiness.
Kalman’s best known work, created with fellow illustrator Rick Meyerowitz, is New Yorkistan: a cartoon map of the city designated by tribes, such as Pashmina, Irant, and Irate. When it ran on the cover of The New Yorker in December 2001, it sanctioned a first burst of laughter in the aftermath of 9/11. A relatively more secret aspect of her identity is as the “M” in M&Co, the revolutionary design firm founded by her late husband, Tibor Kalman, with whom she was a constant collaborator. The firm’s famous 10-One-4 watch is based on one of her doodles. She has collaborated on projects with the fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, the choreographer Mark Morris, and the composer Nico Muhly. Her work can be seen in The Jewish Museum .