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Maira Kalman

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Maira Kalman (b. 1949, Tel Aviv, Israel) is an artist, author/illustrator and designer known for her playful and witty illustrations which have been featured in publications such as The New York Times and The New Yorker, and the books that she has both written and illustrated. Her work is a narrative journal of her life and all its absurdities.

Kalman’s irreverent style—at times humorous and at others bittersweet—captures the beauties and banalities of modern life, Kalman’s illustrations explore the human condition using objects, interiors and figures as foils to create poignant pictures of daily life. “There is a strong personal narrative aspect of what I do,” Kalman explains. “What happens in my life is interpreted in my work. There is very little separation. My work is my journal of my life.”

Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Kalman studied at New York University. Kalman began her career with the development of M&Co, an influential graphic and design consultancy founded by her husband, the graphic designer Tibor Kalman, in 1979. Following the birth of her children, Kalman began publishing picture books. Her first publication Stay Up Late (1985) illustrates the lyrics to David Byrne’s song of the same name. She has gone on to write, illustrate and publish over thirty books for adults and children throughout the course of her versatile career. Her original illustrations are primarily gouaches on paper—a medium she favors for its chalky density, fluidity and inherent re-workability. Kalman also works with embroidery, textile, and design. She lives and works in Greenwich Village, New York City.

Kalman was conferred honorary doctorates from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2014, and the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2016.

Kalman often illustrates for The New Yorker magazine, and is well known for her collaboration with Rick Meyerowitz on the New Yorker cover NEWYORKISTAN in 2001. The list of Kalman’s collaborations include, set design with David Byrne and the Mark Morris Dance Company, performance with both Nico Muhly and John Heginbotham, and books with Alex Kalman, Byrne, Michael Pollan, and Gertrude Stein.

Recent and upcoming projects include Women Holding Things (2022), One Hundred Saturdays (2022), Darling Baby (2021), American Utopia (2020), The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Illustrated (2020), Beloved Dog (2017), and Weather, Weather (2016), among others. She has also published The Elements of Style (illustrated) and two monthly on-line columns entitled Principles of Uncertainty (2006-07) and The Pursuit of Happiness (2008-09) for The New York Times. During 2010-12 she authored or illustrated four books including Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, and Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up.

Kalman was included in ten exhibitions organized by her previous gallerist, the late Julie Saul. In recent years, her work has been featured in several solo exhibitions throughout the United States, including The Pursuit of Everything: Maira Kalman’s Books for Children (2019), which was organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst; Sara Berman’s Closet (2017), which was organized by Mmuseumm and travelled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, the National Museum of American Jewish Heritage, Philadelphia, and will open at the Sarasota Art Museum, Florida in 2023; Maira Kalman Selects (2015), at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York; and Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) (2011), which was organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, and travelled to the Jewish Museum, New York, the Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.
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