Artist Maira Kalman is one busy woman. Until his death in 1999, Kalman was a partner with her husband, Tibor, in a successful design firm, M&Co. The company is still going strong, and Kalman remains prolific as ever in the worlds of design, art and illustration, and books.
Here, fast on the heels of last year's wonderful "The Elements of Style Illustrated," the quirky illustrator/author comes up with the amazing "The Principles of Uncertainty," a 330-page painted, hand-lettered extravaganza that originated in a blog for the New York Times opinion pages.
This is one of those books that defies categorization, mostly because it is, in the truest sense, a handmade effort -- part memoir, part diary, part stream-of-consciousness meditation on life's vagaries. The art, which depicts ladies with sculptural hair-dos, food, animals, foreign places, couches -- well, you get the idea -- is a big treat for the eyes: crazy, colorful and wonderfully executed.
Such books as these run the danger of falling into the "so-who-cares?" category -- just another goofy artist doing her thing. But this one doesn't, owing to Kalman's imaginative, witty approach to her subject (herself in the world), and to her skill as an artist, by turns wacky and touching, who knows her stuff.
We follow Kalman to her ancestral Russia, and see Pavlov's stuffed dog in the Museum of Hygiene in St. Petersburg. We follow her on walks around New York City, and see the "exalted," "wretched," "spiffy" and "funny" people she sees. We see her affection for fruit platters, for fabulous hats and the seven-layer chocolate cake at Cuccio's. We also feel her grief and loss -- for her parents and for her husband, who died when he was so very young -- her in-the-moment ecstasy, and her anxiety about the future.
This is a unique, warmly intelligent book for the enjoyment of artists, writers and anyone who delights in works of genuine imagination.
L.K. Hanson is a former Star Tribune illustrator and sometime writer. He lives in Minneapolis.