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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mitsumasa Anno

Mitsumasa Anno
About a week ago, as I was lying in my dentist's chair, having a cap replaced, we (or rather, he) got to talking about a Japanese illustrator he much admired. You know how hard it is to converse with a mouthful of latex-gloved fingers? At any rate, though he couldn't remember the artist's name, he recalled the title of the book, Anno's Journey, a children's book acquired as a gift when one of his daughters was born. He wholeheartedly recommended I look up the book and its author as a possible topic for this page. Inasmuch as I'm always on the lookout for possible topics for this page, I did. Although I don't normally cover children's books or their illustrators, I was, nonetheless, impressed.

Mitsumasa Anno's
first book, 1970.
Most of the books Mitsumasa Anno "writes" he illustrates himself. I put the word "writes" in quotation marks simply because virtually all Anno's books are without words. This is, of course, convenient in as much as he writes ...make that Illustrates...for preteen children all around the world. His publishers must save a fortune on translators. How-ever, this places a tremendous burden on the artist's skill, ingenuity, and creativity in that it forces the artwork alone to "carry" the story or message. I should mention at this point, that the reader here should not expect a title for each illustration. "No words" means no words. With paintings, visual puz-zles, and tricks of perception, Anno intro-duces geography, science, art, architecture, composers, and painters, by focusing on children and adults depicted at work and play. Each illustration is executed in meti-culous detail, gently hued with watercolors. Each is an imaginative rendering designed to fill hours of amusement and learning set against the anticipation of seeking still one more amazing detail.

The math teacher turned illustrator.
Mitsumasa Anno was born in Tsuwano, (southwestern) Japan, in 1926. In high school, he embraced the study of art, literature, and mathematics before being drafted into the Japanese army during world war II. After leaving the army, Anno graduated from Yamaguchi Teacher Training College in 1948. He became a primary school math teacher though he dreamed of becoming an artist. As a teacher, Anno was also quite interested in how children learned mathematics, writing, and art. After ten years of teaching math, Mitsumasa started writing, illustrating and creating picture books for children. His first effort, published in 1970, was called Topsy Turvies. Mitsumasa has created over forty children's books, ranging from wordless picture books, to poetry, and Aesop fables.

Learning by seeing.
Typical of Anno's many other books, Anno's Journey, the one my doctor of dentistry praised so highly, is a wordless book relating the story of a traveler, who buys a horse and sets out journeying through Europe. Along the way a careful "reader" will see references to fairy tales, great works of art, and history. Careful examination will reveal Riding Hood, Beethoven, Sesame Street characters and many other icons of civilization. The books are aimed at readers from about eight to twelve, so younger children may need help in identifying and studying the grand masters to which the illustrations often refer. But then, such exposure, whatever the source, is the whole purpose of Anno's books. Anno’s Journey has a story to tell, but the true treasure of this book is in the beauty of Mitsumasa Anno’s Hans Christian Anderson medal-winning illustrations.

Though obviously from children's books, Anno's illustrations, in tune with their time and place, seem to "feel real."
Anno's illustrations are usually done in pen and ink tinted with watercolor. However, Anno sometimes incorporates collage and woodcuts. They are intricately detailed, showing a sense of humor, frequently employing subtle jokes and references. Anno's style has been compared to that of M. C. Escher. Although he is best known for his children's books, Anno's paintings have also earned him recognition in his native Japan. In Tsuwano, the Mitsumasa Anno Museum houses a collection of his works.

The M.C. Escher of Japan.
Talk about Topsy Turvy...

Anno's Flea Market


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