Clayton On Art: Stephanie Stebich's lecture on Eric Carle's "ArtArt"

By Alec Clayton on April 9, 2013


Tacoma Art Museum Director Stephanie Stebich will lecture on the personal and private art of children's book artist Eric Carle Wednesday, April 10 at 10:30 a.m. The lecture is free with museum admission, and it should be as special as is the exhibition because she is a personal friend of the artist and knows him well.

I was fortunate enough to attend a press preview of the exhibition at which Stebich toured the show with us and talked about Carle's art. My review will appear in this week's Volcano. But there's much more to the show than I can say in one review, so I'll try to cover a little more here.

Carle is famous for his colorful book art. His most famous book here in the United States is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but Stebichsays Brown Bear - Brown Bear, What Do You See? is more popular in Europe. What very few people know is that throughout his entire life he has made art that was never intended for public display, which he calls his "ArtArt." It is this private and personal work that makes up the bulk of the exhibit. It is mostly abstract paintings and collages using acrylic paint and colorful tissue paper.

Among the more interesting things to be seen is his "Name" art. When he writes to close friends he often likes to embellish his notes with original art, and often the way he does that is to write their names in colorful collage art. There are quite a few of these in the show and they strike a balance visually between his purely abstract work and his delightful children's book illustrations.

In 2001 he designed costumes and set designs for The Springfield Symphony's performance of Mozart's "The Magic Flute." You can see some of the actual costumes in this show along with sketches for his designs. In the process of working on these he discovered a material called Tyvek, and he began making mural size paintings on Tyvek using a broom and large paintbrushes. Two of these murals are on display at TAM, one of which he created especially for this show.

Early in his career Carle experimented with combining linocuts and photography. "Combining these two elements was an interesting graphic exercise for me," he says.

This earlier experimentation with photography led to more recent photographic work in which he zooms in on textures and details on streets.

There are also some colorful little photographs that remind me a lot of Larry Poons' optical paintings of circles and ellipses from the 1960s. (Does anybody remember Poons? He's a fascinating painter whose work deserves more attention than it gets. But that's another story.)

For a radical departure from his brightly colored abstract works there are a lot of linoleum block prints of animals and tea pots and a Conestoga wagon. These prints are dark and simple and have an early Americana look. They were all done in 1965 and are perhaps the most distinctive pieces among a number that illustrate Carle's wide range of style, media and ideas.

The works I have mentioned here are but a few of the works to be seen in this wonderful show that spans two of the museum's large galleries. I highly recommend attending Stebich's lecture if you can make it, and be sure to see the show when you can.

TACOMA ART MUSEUM, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10, 10:30 A.M., $8-$10, 1701 PACIFIC AVE., TACOMA, 253.272.4258