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Posts Tagged ‘Tove Jansson’

Staff Picks: Mortar, Machine Guns, Manuscript Porn

October 21, 2016 | by

Marc Yankus, Haughwout Building, 2016.

When the paleologist Christopher de Hamel first conceived Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, he wanted to call it Interviews with Manuscripts, but his publisher wouldn’t let it fly. His pitch, eccentric though it may be, was that encountering texts like The Copenhagen Psalter and The Hours of Jeanne de Navarre in their original forms, deep in the bowels of the world’s most esoteric and inaccessible libraries, is not unlike interviewing famous celebrities in their current homes. “The idea of this book, then,” he writes in the introduction, “is to invite the reader to accompany the author on a private journey to see, handle and interview some of the finest illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.” For how seriously De Hamel takes the premise—and he takes it, like, aggressively seriously—Meetings can feel, somewhat hilariously, like big-league manuscript porn: “As you sit in the reading-room of a library turning the pages of some dazzlingly illuminated volume,” he says, “you can sense a certain respect from your fellow students on neighboring tables consulting more modest books or archives.” Each of the book’s twelve studies is meticulously researched, and De Hamel showcases them with such self-evident joy that they’re irresistibly immersive. —Daniel Johnson

We featured a portfolio of the artist Marc Yankus’s “Secret Lives of Buildings” series in our Winter 2014 issue. Last week, Yankus packed the newly relocated ClampArt gallery for his fifth solo show, up through November 26. His new work furthers his obsession with New York’s architecture; once again, Yankus plays with geometry, texture, and ornament, tricking the eye with his masterful and often painterly attention to brick and mortar—obsessively blurring the lines between photography and illustration. Yankus seems to bring out the very best in these buildings, some that we’re so familiar with that we have ceased really seeing them. His work asks us to take a second look—and the images are imbued with optimism and splendor at a time when it’s often difficult to feel uplifted. Yankus has left behind the sandpaper tones and textures from his last body of work, introducing more light through a whitewashing effect. The sheer scale of some of the prints gives the impression that you could easily step, like Alice through the looking glass, from the gallery floor into one of Yankus’s deserted streets. —Charlotte Strick Read More »

Staff Picks: Favorites from 2015

December 18, 2015 | by

From the cover of Resentment

I’m mistrustful of year-end lists, especially best-ofs. I didn’t get to all the books I wanted to read (or write about) this year, though a number of the ones I liked have appeared in this column over the past twelve months. For my last selection here in 2015, I’ve chosen a book that’s old (originally published in 1997) and new (reissued this year) and that I’ve only just finished: Gary Indiana’s ResentmentI read the novel with great pleasure and with a kind of deep attention that I can’t summon for all books, though I might want to. In that respect, it has come as a year-end gift, despite the fact that it trolls America’s darker instincts. The novel circles around a murder trial in Los Angeles that is based on that of the Menendez brothers’ parricide in 1994 and follows the peregrinations of Seth, a reporter who is both attending the trial and writing a celebrity puff piece. The swirl of Seth’s various encounters, the details of the trial, and the seediness of wealth congeal into an ugly mass that so aptly captures the tabloid heart of America. Perhaps because this time of year is acutely, sordidly commercial, I found the novel’s every line to be viscerally true. —Nicole Rudick

One book stuck with me all year—Mark Greif’s atmospheric history The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America 1933–73. Alternate subtitles might include “Books Your Parents Studied in College, and Why Nobody Studies Them Now,” “The Origins of the Culture Wars,” or “Are You Serious: The Rise and Fall of the Great American Novel.” None of these screams best seller, but if you grew up equally confused by Jean-Paul Sartre and Henderson the Rain King, this may be the book for you. —Lorin Stein Read More »

All’s Fair

July 21, 2015 | by


Tove Jansson. Photo: Per Olov Jansson


They lived at opposite ends of a large apartment building near the harbor, and between their studios lay the attic, an impersonal no-man’s land of tall corridors with locked plank doors on either side. Mari liked wandering across the attic; it drew a necessary, neutral interval between their domains. She could pause on the way to listen to the rain on the metal roof, look out across the city as it lit its lights, or just linger for the pleasure of it.

They never asked, “Were you able to work today?” Maybe they had, twenty or thirty years earlier, but they’d gradually learned not to. There are empty spaces that must be respected—those often long periods when a person can’t see the pictures or find the words and needs to be left alone.

—Tove Jansson, “Videomania,” Fair Play

There are not many really good books that portray functional relationships. Certainly not the relationships of artists. Well, that’s not a shocker—happy families, as we are told, are all alike. Fair Play, Tove Jansson’s 1982 portrait of a partnership, is an exception.

Fair Play is based on Jansson’s relationship with the artist Tuulikki Pietilä, with whom she shared a life, and a home, for some forty years. If you have read Jansson’s classic Summer Book, certain things about Fair Play will be familiar: the island setting, the spareness, the less-is-more portrait of human connection. These things will be familiar even to those who only know Jansson from her most famous works, like Finn Family Moomintroll. (Indeed, Pietilä was the inspiration for the competent Moomin character Too-Ticky.) Read More »

A Right-Size Dream

July 9, 2015 | by

An appreciation of Tove Jansson.

Tove Jansson, ca. 1967. © Moomin Characters TM

Tove Jansson, ca. 1967. © Moomin Characters TM

One day my mother—who immigrated from Hungary forty years ago—was visiting my apartment. She noticed that on the fridge my boyfriend and I had taped a large picture of Charlie Brown, which we had torn from the pages of The New Yorker. It was just Charlie Brown standing there with his hands at his sides. Upon seeing the picture she stopped and said, “What a nice boy! Who is it?” The remarkable thing wasn’t only discovering that my mother had strangely never encountered Charlie Brown, but that upon seeing him for the first time, she immediately liked him, felt sympathy and tenderness. Until that moment, I had not fully understood the power of comics: I had never witnessed so starkly what a perfect line can summon. A line drawn with love can make us as vulnerable as what the line depicts. Whatever cynicism I had about how commerce creates familiarity creates conditioned responses creates “love,” it crumbled in that instant. An artist’s love for what they create is what creates love.

The first time I encountered Tove Jansson’s Moomin strips, I had the same feeling as my mother: what a nice boy! (Or whatever sort of creature Moomin is—a creature from a tender dream.) There is such vulnerability in his eyebrows, in his little round tummy, in the way he doesn’t have a mouth, in the babyish slope of the bottom of his face.

It was strange, then, to learn that Jansson’s first drawing of Moomin was an attempt to draw “the ugliest creature imaginable” after a fight with her brother about Immanuel Kant. Read More »


The Hattifatteners at Bedtime, and Other News

December 19, 2014 | by


Tove Jansson‘s Hattifatteners.

  • On a new biography of Tove Jansson: “She discovered lesbian love … Biographies invariably contain a section on her sexuality and this one is no exception. Its insight that the creatures in Moominland called the Hattifatteners ‘resemble a wandering flock of penises or condoms’ is a point to ponder when reading aloud at bedtime.”
  • What are the most important questions to ask ourselves when we read? “What is the emotional atmosphere behind this narrative? That’s the question I suppose I’m asking—and what is the consequent debate arising from that atmosphere?”
  • The Chinese term for “effortless action” is wu wei. You’ll soon see it in self-help texts—and why not? Striving to try less hard may, in fact, be very self-helpful. “Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics and commerce. It’s why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal.”
  • “A raucous, Sherlock Holmes–themed pantomime called ‘Mrs. Hudson’s Christmas Corker’ might not sound like the most highbrow play that London has to offer. But if you sample enough of the mulled wine being served in the foyer beforehand, you begin to see it differently.”
  • Matisse’s cutouts are now—and not for the first time—the toast of the art world. But when he made them, he wasn’t so sure: “Matisse worried that working with cut paper was cheating—a shortcut to painting—and he kept it a secret. ‘It is necessary not to say anything about this,’ he wrote to his son Pierre, in 1931.”


Our Office Plants, Ourselves, and Other News

July 22, 2014 | by


Polly Brown photographs plants in offices. Photo via The New Yorker; plant also via The New Yorker.

  • Coming soon to the two-euro coin: Tove Jansson’s face. How can you get one? “ ‘Some collectors consider it important to obtain the coin from circulation, but it is easier to purchase the special coin in polished proof quality from numismatic shops or the Mint of Finland online shop,’ says Mint of Finland CEO Paul Gustafsson.”
  • Bertrand Russell: bright guy and all, but was his pacifism really so logically rigorous? “The peace agenda of Russell and his followers was always based on the assumption that war is simply a euphemism for the madness of state-sponsored mass murder, and that we could prevent it by standing up for moral and political sanity … But the paths to war are paved not with malice but with righteous self-certainty. People who choose to participate in military action are more likely to be altruists than egotists.”
  • How should you explain what your novel’s about? Not like this: “This was the story of a young guy, from a town, with a family, with a handful of familiar issues, going back to that town.”
  • The photographer Polly Brown “has spent the past year documenting the plants that bloom in the headquarters of Louis Vuitton, A.T. & T., Nike, Vogue, and even The New Yorker … Brown’s idea was to present the office plant as a representation [of] our ‘biophilic desires.’ ”
  • In 2002, radio producers interviewed “New Yorkers who were among the last—and in some cases, the very last—to hold jobs in industries that were dying … They came up with seven people—a Brooklyn fisherman, a water-tower builder, a cowbell maker, a knife-and-scissor grinder, a lighthouse keeper, an old-fashioned bra fitter, and a seltzer man.” The interviews are now online.