Monday, October 18, 2010

"Drawn In Brooklyn" Curator Interview- John Bemelmans Marciano 

I met John Bemelmans Marciano last year. We were introduced by Barbara Wing who had been my curator for a solo picture book illustration exhibition at Brooklyn Central Library in Spring 2009. Working with Barbara Wing was a fantastic experience. I knew an exhibition she and John were cooking up called, "Drawn In Brooklyn", featuring many Brooklyn picture book illustrators, was going to be exciting fun.

John's grandfather was Ludwig Bemelmans of Madeline fame.
John now writes and paints Madeline in the 21 Century. Marciano said it took a long time to capture his grandfather's art style. His latest Madeline book is called "Madeline at the White House". Besides Madeline, Marciano also writes and illustrates picture books such as "Harold's Tail", "Delilah", and "There's a Dolphin in the Grand Canal!". John is very excited about his newest books for Bloomsbury USA. They are called "Anonyponymous" and "Toponynity".

Marciano lives in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn with his wife Andromache, daughter Galatea, and cats Maud and Liddy. 

I am so thrilled that John Bemelmans Marciano and his co-curators Barbara Wing and Paquita Campoverde of Brooklyn Central Library have agreed to provide a history of what goes on in front of and behind the scenes of their wonderful exhibition, "Drawn In Brooklyn".
In Part 1, we talk with John.

Q: How did you get the idea for curating this show?

JBM: My desire to do a show that celebrated the illustrator comes from my experience going around the country to schools and bookstores and constantly being surprised at how people are fascinated by my having written books but generally not caring that I did the pictures too.  I think because most books are about text and only text, people are conditioned to think about authors, whereas in picture books it is the illustrator telling the story just as much as the writer. 

Q: What did you discover about the Brooklyn picture book arts community while curating this show?

JBM: That it is even more vast than I realized!  Also, that it contains some of the nicest and most talented people I have ever met, and that many of them--like me--have been craving a community.  Most of us work alone in our studios spread out all over the borough, and the opportunity for us to share our work with each other was for many the most exciting thing about the show, and I believe that desire is apparent in the exhibition.  Not just in the care each artist took in deciding which of their work they wanted to present, but in the Youth Wing portion of the show, where illustrators opened up their sketchbooks and put their process on display.

Q: How did the multi-media aspect the exhibition arise? (There's a film, a festival, live presentations and workshops, illustrator's process besides the original picture book illustrations).

JBM: Largely from Barbara and Paquita, and the amazing people they work with at the library.  As an illustrator myself, I felt the need to protect my fellows from being asked to do too much, but as it turned out everyone was thrilled at what they were being asked to do!  What I especially learned from this experience is the importance of large public institutions, and the idea that people want to be involved in something larger than themselves.  In the do-it-yourself, privatize everything age, when real spaces are being replaced by websites, I think it's vital to rally around organizations like the Brooklyn Public Library.

Q: What are you currently working on? 

JMB: I am currently working on a chapter book about the richest, worst little boy in the world.

Q: If you had a Mermaid name what would it be?

JMB: Lorenzo!  Or Adolphus.

Thanks, John!

Art: Copyright John Marciano