Saturday, 28 March 2015

Inspired by... / 05 - Jan Pienkowski

Known best for his illustrations of Meg and Mog, Jan Pienkowski was a Polish artist who worked alongside many different authors to create visual representations of imaginary worlds.

His style varied from the bold but benign, black-outlined primary drawings of the aforementioned witch and her cat, to more ethereal, eerie illustrations of fairy tales and folklore.

My favourite works are the perfect marriage of words and pictures, and two of my most treasured childhood books - Joan Aiken’s A Necklace Of Raindropsand The Kingdom Under the Sea. Eastern European folk tales of a tiger that runs faster than the wind; a huge floating apple pie with a piece of sky in it; a baker’s cat who swells to the size of a whale when his mistress feeds him yeast; and a house that stands on one leg - as a child, I was enchanted.

Pienkowski’s eye translated this magical mythology into marbled backgrounds of jewel-like blues and greens or fiery orange and red, overlaid with intricate paper cut silhouettes. I have always had a thing for silhouettes, born of a fascination with a tiny, framed 18th century profile that hung on the walls of my childhood home, and tried my hand at paper cutting (or scherenschnitte) a few years back. It’s certainly an acquired skill and one that made my hand ache, paralysed into a scissor claw for quite some time afterwards.

The standout story is the one I think of often - A Necklace of Raindrops. The tale of a little girl whose father freed the North Wind after he had become trapped in a thorn bush when she was a baby. The North Wind became her godfather, giving her a magical necklace and returning each year on her birthday to give her a raindrop to hang on the chain. Each raindrop was charmed, allowing the little girl to perform ever wondrous weather-related enchantments. One day, the necklace is stolen and the girl travels the earth to find it. I shan’t spoil it - it’s one to read yourself. But I will just say that it’s a story that has stayed with my throughout my life, giving me a love of magical stories, Pienkowski’s paper cuts, and climatological peculiarities.

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