Pleasantly Grotesque: Drawings by Reinis Pētersons

Mufa: Stāsts par Āfrikas balto degunradžu' (Muffa: Story of the African White Baby Rhinoceros") by Juris Zvirgzdiņš. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2011.
Mufa: Stāsts par Āfrikas balto degunradžu‘ (Mufa: Story of the African White Baby Rhinoceros”) by Juris Zvirgzdiņš. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2011.

Believe it or not, Reinis Pētersons, who is originally from Latvia, has really only just begun his career as an illustrator of children’s books. His drawings were first published in book form in 2007–that’s not even a decade ago! He’s got stiff competition in the Hans Christian Andersen Award competition; many of the nominated illustrators have careers spanning 30 or 40+ years.

Pētersons is, I think, an exciting illustrator to watch. He’s one of the few artists whose books manage to surprise me–I never know what to expect when I crack them open. Just consider the contrast between the soft, pleasant, and almost watercolor-like image from “Muffa,” above, and the stark, precise, red-and-black cover of “Buffalo Bill,” below.

Mans draugs Pērsijs, Bufalo Bils un Es ("My friend Percy, Buffalo Bill, and I") by Ulf Stark. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2011.
Mans draugs Pērsijs, Bufalo Bils un Es (“My friend Percy, Buffalo Bill, and I”) by Ulf Stark. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2011.

Pētersons is capable of evoking a different mood with each one of his drawings. Often, that mood might be described as “pleasantly grotesque.” Now what could that possibly mean? Well, consider the portrait of the skeleton driver, below, whose meek decrepitude is captured by his unsure smile, hopeful (yet dead) eyes, and an almost apologetic tip of the hat. How appropriate that this character should appear in a book called “Horror Bus,” a title that evokes feelings of both dread and elementary-school adventure.

Šausmu autobuss ("Horror Bus") by Paul van Loon. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2013
Šausmu autobuss (“Horror Bus”) by Paul van Loon. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2013

And in addition to the seemingly friendly bus driver, there are other horrors lurking in wait, such as the nebulous, sharp-toothed inky monster who drags away a screaming child to an uncertain fate. Would this illustration be be considered appropriate for children in the United States? The likely answer is no. But in Latvia, Pētersons’s country of origin, children are lucky enough to view his charming, yet troublesome, creations.

image from Sausmu autobuss
image from Sausmu autobuss

Not even the moon is safe from monsters in Pētersons’s imagination. Upon seeing the cover of “A bite taken out of the moon,” readers will rightly wonder why the forlorn moon is missing a chunk of its softly golden-glowing sphere.

Mēnesim robs ("A Bite Taken Out of the Moon") by Ojārs Vācietis. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2008
Mēnesim robs (“A Bite Taken Out of the Moon”) by Ojārs Vācietis. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2008

The answer is soon provided…

Menesim robs, image

Which brings me to my favorite book illustrated by Pētersons: Zelta Pods (The Crock of Gold). Pētersons’s drawings highlight the magical and wonderful aspects of James Stephens’s collection of short stories on Irish Mythology. I’m assuming that the stories are magical, that is; I haven’t read the book, but now it’s on my to-read list!

Zelta pods (The Crock of Gold). An illustrated book by James Stephens. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2007.
Zelta pods (The Crock of Gold). An illustrated book by James Stephens. Riga, Liels un Mazs, 2007.

And two of those drawings…

from Zelta Pods
from Zelta Pods

I hope you enjoyed viewing some of Reinis Pētersons’s amazing work! As a reminder, this is part of a series I’m doing on outstanding children’s book illustrators nominated for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award. You can view previous entries by clicking the permanent link to “children’s literature” on the right side panel. The winner will be announced on March 24th!

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6 thoughts on “Pleasantly Grotesque: Drawings by Reinis Pētersons

  1. Awesome illustrations. The trouble with this stuff, and the same with music etc is that it really inspires me to do it, until I realise I don’t have those talents! I HATE that feeling!

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