In Memory Of The Future – Tomi Ungerer

Posted 7 months ago in Arts and Culture, Illustration

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

Tomi Ungerer was an acclaimed author and illustrator of children’s books. His life and artistic career defy easy categorization encompassing illustration, advertising, writing, collage, sculpture and architectural design. Ungerer was always a political artist – from the beginning of his career in the 1950s, his work challenged social norms and conventions with breath-taking originality frequently inviting the viewer or reader, whether adult or child, to question the status quo of the world around them. He moved to East Cork in the early seventies and lived a private life there until his death in 2019.

Illustrators Ireland approached their members to celebrate the work and spirit of Ungerer. Over 50 artists have participated by sharing their interpretations of Ungerer’s work and responses to his influence. We have selected a few from the exhibition which runs in the dlr Lexicon in Dun Laoghaire until September 30.

Brian Fitzgerald

Badoglio & The Flowerpot

“Each time I try to draw an alternative character to Tomi’s hero, Benito Badoglio, a penniless veteran, I keep drawing a big nose and bushy beard. It seems like there’s no other way to represent this humble character. So the only way I can move on is to use anthropomorphism and with that I am set free to have fun with this wonderful story. You’ll notice the plant is in mid air and it’s also smashed on the bottom right side of the page. Now I’m wondering should I do that too?”



Shona Shirley Macdonald

The Sanctuary

“I like the humour, imagination, and playfulness of Tomi’s work, and his anti-war and anti-injustice message. In one of his books he says the kindness from his neighbour made him see, ‘goodwill as a rainbow bridging two storms’ which is a striking thought and reminder that only the work of kindness will start to fix things, never war.

I chose the last illustration in his last book, Nonstop, in which two refugees finally find a safe place inside a giant cake house filled with everything they could ever need. We only see the exterior in his illustration so this is what I imagine could be inside. It turns out that the top part of the cake house is actually a glasshouse filled with (mostly) tasty plants, all managed carefully by the leafy hare spirit, who welcomes newcomers with a lively tune on the whistle and a scrumptious cake.

Everyone understands that this sanctuary is to be shared. It belongs to no-one and everyone.”



Vincent Lavergne

King Ungerer

“I was lucky to meet Tomi at the Comic Book Festival Dublin 2018 where he received the pencil & brush crown from Illustrator Ireland. I believe he loved it so much he was buried with it. We had a heart-warming chat over a glass of wine and I got a chance to tell him how much his works meant to me. It is impossible to pinpoint one aspect of his massive influence, but I would say that his use in books and advertisement of clean Swiss-type fonts against a large amount of solid black made a huge impression on me. That was completely unseen in children’s literature that was (and still is) dominated by white pages with traditional serif typeface. Bonus Game: Can you name the 13 Ungerer’s classics depicted?”


Silvio Severino


“Tomi Ungerer’s work is incredibly diverse and complex, making it difficult to choose a favourite. As I explored his catalogue, I discovered many captivating collages and photomontages. I use collage as base of my own work and what I find in Tomi’s body of work is truly inspiring . While he had previously experimented with a hybrid of collage and drawing, it was in his later years that he fully embraced collage as an art form. His unique approach, characterized by a sharp critical eye and the use of surreal elements, is truly fascinating .In my tribute to Tomi Ungerer, I aim to portray Tomi himself as the “Moon Man,” a character from his most famous book and cartoon. Ultimately, my goal is to create an artwork that captures the essence of Ungerer’s artistry and creativity, while honouring his enduring legacy in a personal way!”



Margaret Anne Suggs


“Tomi’s work is special to me – from the strange and unlikely heroes to the fancy hand-lettered text to the expressive linework. His pictures always have the most beguiling details. I love searching the illustrations and finding a snake in a jumper, a hidden snail, a rat in a meat grinder or a umbrella through a man’s skull. Looking at Tomi’s illustration work is like looking at a bit of his heart on the page: his sense of humour, his mischievousness, his saltiness . . .

I chose ‘Ice Capades’ as the piece that inspired me. Being raised in America, I knew all about the Ice Capades. They were one of those amazingly colourful spectacles that the lucky kids got to go to see.

Tomi never limited himself to children’s books. His work spanned the gamut and there was much controversy about his work for adults and in erotica. I think this piece shows the perfect bridge into his more ‘adult’ work. It’s a bit sexy, but it’s fun and full of joie de vivre. It’s Tomi all over – and it features a magnificent ‘tiara’.”



Martin Beckett

The Explorer

“I see Tomi Ungerer as an explorer. Sure, he was a satirist, surrealist, story-teller, Franco-Germanic and personal activist (from civil to sexual rights). However, it is in his exploring, both physically (he lived in France, the USA, Canada and Ireland, he once even snuck into Russia from Norway, an event recorded in Norwegian Newspapers) and maybe even more in his work (he not only worked in children’s books but did advertisements for the New York Times, illustrated articles for Playboy and erotic books including ‘˜Totempole’ and the comic ‘The joy of frogs’, changing his style to suit each subject) that I recognise and see the explorer in myself. I too move from style to style to create my images, and much like Ungerer I have lived in many different places, finally finding my home in Ireland.

I have chosen as my inspiration an extremely tame piece by Ungerer standards, which reflects for me his love of exploring.”



Helena Grimes

Stage Fright

“My piece is based on this illustration from Cats as Cats Can by Tomi Ungerer. I enjoyed the wicked character of the cat contrasted with the calm demure of the mouse. The double meaning of the illustration – the image of the mouse becoming the meal paralleled with the depiction of a cat singing with a mic/mouse – sits very soundly as one. Often in my own work my illustrations have multiple meanings and symbols hidden within. I want to develop this image further interpreted with my own style, symbolism and playful additions.”



Orla Roche

The Elephants of Aida

“I love Tomi Ungerer’s Elephants, Whales & Kangaroos but his Elephants in particular always make me smile. With his beautifully simple line drawings, Tomi fills these Elephants with such personality- a wry humour, wit, resignation, worry and mischief amongst the many emotions they express. While trying to decide which of Tomi Ungerer’s works to choose as inspiration for this exhibition, I came across a social media post from 2018 where Tomi declared “Its Elephant week all week over on our Twitter account!” So, that was my decision made…its Elephants for me too! My tribute to Tomi Ungerer’s inspirational Elephants is based on an article I read many years ago about some comic mishaps in the world of Opera. During one performance of Aida, real Elephants were brought on stage. It seems nobody had thought about whether the stage could actually support these great beasts. One by one the Elephants proceeded to crash through the stage- literally bringing the (Opera) House down!!!”



Niamh Sharkey

The Artist 

“Emile is one of Tomi’s earliest children’s books, published in 1960. He made several books about animals that often are looked down on – rats, bats etc. Tomi said, “these stories show that even if you are despicable, you can make a go of things by using your talents; you are what you make, you are what you do and you are what you think.” Octopus were certainly in a minority in children’s books, Tomi related and understood what it’s like to be treated like a minority. He wanted to take despised animals and restore their reputation. “Everybody has got something that the others don’t have, so why not show how their difference makes them special.”

In my illustration I reimagined Emile as an eight tentacled octopus artist, playing with all sorts of art materials, actively creating books and drawings. Tomi made a lot of sketches for Emile and I was inspired both by the cover art, which is graphic, strong and simple and the spot illustration inside where Emile is reading multiple books. Tomi’s original sketches for Emile have so much energy, humour and personality and I tried to capture some of Tomi’s playful spirit and humour in my drawing.”



Eoin Whelehan

White Power/Black Power

“My piece is inspired by Tomi Ungerer’s protest posters, specifically his 1967 piece White Power/Black Power. Tomi’s drawing style utilised an economy of line, creating simple yet powerful imagery that I find masterful. Taking cues from his social and political commentary I chose to address an issue that personally resonates with me, the refugee crisis, whilst also mirroring the symmetry of his visual approach in that particular creation. To be an artist is to respond and react to the world around you, as the great man said himself – ‘I create political drawing because I feel the need for it. Because I am angry.’”



Brian Gallagher

Thorr School

“Long before the Illustrators Ireland project was even mentioned, I had come across this painting and saved it in to my scrapbook along with other images that inspired my work. That was some time ago and quite unrelated. So when we were asked to do our piece for this project I was looking through works that Tomi Ungerer had done. At first I was not finding anything that immediately clicked with me. I then realised the piece I had admired was his and he had actually done this for his book- “Slow agony”. It fitted so well in to the kind of subject matter I work on for my personal projects that it seemed ready made for me. My own Scraperboard is of the old Thorr National School, Co Donegal; a beautiful desolate spot high in the hills above Croithlí – Crolly.”


Ashwin Chacko

Taste and See

“Tomi Ungerer’s ‘Moon Man’ is such an amazing children’s book, a masterpiece of storytelling, full of enticing visuals. I was drawn to this image because to me it perfectly encapsulates the curiosity and innocence with which we need to pursue life. We must taste and see that the world is a beautiful place and often we take that fact for granted. I wanted to encapsulate the simple joy of being immersed in life, appreciating the little moments that are often neglected.”



Aileen Crossley

Take the time to say hello to God’s Little Cow

“For my MA Illustration final project and next picture book I am making a series of photo plate lithographs at Black Church Print Studio, exploring joy and healing through nature. This will be done in the context of the magical Irish descriptions of nature. Bóín Dé, God’s Little Cow from this body of work has the same feeling of wonder in nature as my chosen Moon Man spread, and I have adapted it digitally for this exhibition.

I had the great luck of getting Tomi’s autograph at Offset, when he was smoking a roly beside Steve Simpson. When he was finished smoking the roly, he rolled it around in his palms and blew it up into the air creating a puff of tobacco.

We were all amazed. It was this unpredictable and edgy magic of his personality and his work that set him apart. He seemed like one of us with his heady, passionate personality. An Irishman among us. Lithography is truly a labour of love, and the magic that this printmaking form brings to picture book illustration makes it so worthwhile.”



Clive McFarland

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice remains one of my most cherished childhood picture books. Its illustrations, full of potions, spells, dark dungeons, and fantastical creatures, transported me to a magical realm of wonder — I remember the countless hours spent pouring over the intricate details. The cover, featuring a shadowy depiction of the Sorcerer, still captivates me and ranks among my favourite book covers. As I explored the craft of creating children’s books, I found myself re-immersed in Tomi Ungerer’s world. His work not only rekindled my sense of wonder but also sparked my imagination once again. My contribution to this exhibition, an illustration of the sorcerer’s young apprentice caught in the midst of a misfired spell, is a tribute to Ungerer. It acknowledges his enduring influence, which shaped my early experiences as a reader and continues to inspire me as a picture book maker.”



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