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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

“I’m really what they call in the States ‘outsider art.’” : The Work of Etienne Delessert

Last August I had some fun highlighting The Creative Company’s series of short stories published as individual books.  You know.  The Monkey’s PawThe LotteryThe Most Dangerous Game.  That kind of stuff.  While looking at their covers I couldn’t help but notice that quite a few were done by the artist Etienne Delessert.  Delessert’s one of those creative types you see around and about but perhaps never get a firm grasp on.  You may have seen the Seven Impossible Things post on Delessert in January of 2010.  You may even have come across some of his better known books, like Moon Theater or The Big and Bad.  But until now you’ve just had a vague sense of him.  You know he’s cool, but what do you really know about the guy?

Well recently I discovered that the illustrious Eric Carle Museum (located in scenic and snowy Amherst, MA) is now hosting a one-of-a-kind Etienne Delessert exhibition.  Yep.  Tis true.  Now part of what I love about this, aside from the obvious, is the fact that the exhibit was created in part with the help of the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and was organized by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, Abilene, Texas.  I’m a fan of any presentation that constitutes a worldwide effort. And here’s a challenge for you Americans out there: Name me all the Swiss-born authors or illustrators of children’s books you can.  Tough, eh?

The exhibit is described in this way:

This retrospective of Delessert surveys his distinguished career that comprises more than eighty books collectively translated into fourteen languages. From his early collaboration with Eugene Ionesco to surreal and politically-charged interpretations of Big and Bad and Humpty Dumpty, Delessert intrigues his readers, young and old, with his imaginary creatures and landscapes.

Ionesco?  Really?  In that case I think this is the first time I’ve heard of the children’s literature/Ionesco connection.  It’s funny which authors and playwrights choose to write for kids (in a perfect universe I’d love to see something like The Edward Albee Counting Book).  And in case you didn’t believe me:

Not that the exhibit is the only Delessert thing to see at the museum.  There will be showings of the man’s animation as well.  Actually, you can get a taste of it yourself, if you like.  Travel to his website and you’ll find a variety of different videos of Delessert pieces (much of it made for Swiss television).  Some of it looks to me like nothing so much as Terry Gillian’s Monty Python animation if you classed it up and gave it some style.  Observe:

And if you feel like having your mind blown for a while, watch all five of the videos on the site.

What does he have coming out in the future?  Says Mr. Delessert: “I have two books coming out! One is 4 stories by the playwright Eugene Ionesco, coming out in May with McSweeneys, and another one coming out late summer with Creative Editions . . . written by Aaron Frish, called The Lonely Pine (a year in Alaska as seen by the loneliest of the pine trees.).”

For more info on Delessert (and to hear his story in his own words) check out the interview conducted with the North Adams Transcript, Swiss illustrator is anything but bland.  It’ll give you a new appreciation of an artist we should have been watching from the start.

Thanks to Sandy Soderberg for the tip!


For those of you interested, here are some other Delessert-related events happening at The Carle:

In the Auditorium

Themes, Theories, and the Art of the Picture Book

Sunday, April 17, 2011

11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Join award-winning artist, Etienne Delessert as he shares his thoughts, both practical and philosophical, on drawing, painting, storytelling, and the world of picture books. Delessert will talk about the how and why of the images he creates and the audiences for which they are intended. As a self-taught artist, Delessert has been translating his ideas, passions and thoughts into the visual language of books, magazines, posters and for more than 30 years.

Free with Museum Admission

Gallery Tour and Book Signing by
Etienne Delessert

Sunday, April 17, 2011
2:00 pm
Free with Museum Admission
Etienne Delessert is a painter, graphic artist, illustrator, and publisher who has created an exemplary and very personal body of work. His books, which have been translated into more than 15 languages, have influenced his contemporaries and inspired children for decades. Come meet the author and hear about the stories behind the artwork!

Friday, May 20th

In the Art Studio

Master Art Class taught by
Etienne Delessert
9:30 – 12:30
$75 (Members $65)
Learn from this self-taught artist who for more than 30 years has been translating his-and the world’s-ideas, passions, fantasies and nightmares into the visual language of books, magazine illustrations, posters, animated films, paintings and sculptures. He reaches both children and adults with his imaginary creatures and landscapes, juxtaposing the familiar with the fantastic to clarify this world and create new and lasting universes.

For ages 16 and up some experience recommended

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Etienne is an illustrator extraordinaire…and to see his original artwork in person is a real treat.
    He’s married to Rita Marshall, the wonderful book designer for The Creative Company, publisher of many of his books. Congratulations on the show Etienne. Thanks for the post Elizabeth!

  2. I’ve got an opportunity to interview him at the blog and am currently composing interview questions. An illustrator, who is a fellow fan, is helping me, ’cause I’m just slightly intimidated and don’t want to waste his time with dumb questions. All that’s to say: Please do contribute some, if you’d like.

  3. Sylvia Callan says:

    We are fortunate to live near the museum and are members. . .the exhibit is by far one of the museum’s best. My son (5) and daughter (2) were very taken by the artwork so much so we sat and read several of his books. We also were fortunate enough to be there when Etienne and Rita were there. Rita pointed out that my daughter (who wears a hat for medical purposes) and is undergoing some medical treatment on her head, looked like yok yok one of Etienne’s characters. Sure enough, Etienne had a figure of Yok Yok and it looked very much like my daughter. . it was a pleasure to meet them. Very warm and kind. We are fortunate to have the museum to exhibit such rare talent.

  4. I was so happy to see you mentioned the Etienne Delessert exhibit. I was there when it was curated at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature. (NCCIL–pronounced “nickel”) I’m a librarian in Abilene, Texas and have been involved(board member, docent, committee member) with the NCCIL since it’s inception in the 90’s. We’ve had some amazing illustrators to exhibit at the NCCIL. We curate the exhibit and then it is leased out to museums around the US. Please give our website look:
    And….I love reading your blog! I’ve followed you for some time.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Well I love your center! And should I ever find myself in Texas (hasn’t happened yet but I have faith) you can bet I’ll be stopping by to say hello. Thanks for the additional info.

  5. Dear Elizabeth,

    Great post! As a Swiss-American working on a picture book, this is very inspiring. It IS hard to find many Swiss who have done picture books! I will contribute two for your list: Marcus Pfister with his “Rainbowfish” and also a fantastic artist/illustrator, Alois Carigiet, whose best known book is “A Bell For Ursli”

  6. Congratulations Etienne! We have always been impressed with your work.

    Rodger and Suzanne

  7. Elizabeth,
    You have an open invitation to visit the NCCIL anytime. I will give you the grand tour. The museum is housed in a building with historical designation–beautifully renovated to make a one of a kind museum. Plus you are welcome to stay with me. I have 2 extra bedrooms!

    We just finished an opening for Anita Lobel last week. Kevin Henkes dropped in for a visit along with 2 publishers from NY. Anita was very charming.


  8. I have never actually encountered an artist whose work actually reminded me of Ursula Vernon’s before. Does he write as well as art?

  9. Delessert’s work on the Ionesco books — there were two of them, both superlative — were the books that left the biggest impression on me (alongside Ezra Jack Keats’ Peter books and the Sendak trilogy) as an art student of children’s books.