Tomi Ungerer

(About art and sexuality, not much about language.)

In the latest (January 19th) New Yorker, a notice of “All in One”, a retrospective of Tomi Ungerer’s work at the Design Center in SoHo. From Wikipedia:

Jean-Thomas “Tomi” Ungerer (born 28 November 1931 [in Strasbourg]) is a French illustrator and a writer in three languages. He has published over 140 books ranging from much loved children’s books to controversial adult work and from the fantastic to the autobiographical. He is known for sharp social satire and witty aphorisms… Ungerer describes himself first and foremost as a story teller and satirist. Prevalent themes in his work include political satire such as drawings and posters against the Vietnam War and against animal cruelty, eroticism, and imaginative subjects for children’s books.

Not your typical sweet children’s book author. Here’s The Three Robbers


which “tells the story of three fierce black-clad robbers who terrorize and plunder the countryside, armed with a blunderbuss, a pepper blower, and a huge red axe.”

Maurice Sendak credits Ungerer with giving him the courage to explore darker themes in children’s books.

(There’s a 2012 biographical documentary film, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story.)

Ungerer’s visual style owes much to Saul Steinberg, George Grosz, and Paul Klee, while not in any way being imitative of them. (On this blog: on Sendak here; on Steinberg here; on Klee here.)

There’s a strong streak of the grotesque:


and tons of eroticism. The publisher’s blurb for Erotoscope (2002) on Amazon:

Alsatian artist Tomi Ungerer has published some 150 books during the past four decades in his quest to open people’s minds and abolish bigotry of all kinds. Though best known for his imaginative children’s books, Ungerer’s fantastic (and often controversial) erotic drawings deserve equal attention. This new book is a retrospective of his erotic oeuvre, including 200 images covering all aspects of his erotic work and almost 200 previously unpublished drawings. From the very original “The Joy of Frogs” to his erotic flowers series (… with such names as “Spermafloris linguifolium” and “Perivagina superba”), Tomi Ungerer’s work stretches the imagination


From “The Joy of Frogs” (the title takes off from “The Joy of Sex”):


Many drawings of vaginas, including one with a vagina as a welcoming open door (Ungerer celebrates fucking) and one with a death’s head vagina (the specter of death recurs in Ungerer’s work).

Eroticism even in Ungerer’s commercial work, as in this 1979 ad for Pantone color products:


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