A while ago I posted about my top 10 favorite illustrators. Well, I thought I would expand on that for you and feature each illustrator in a post of their own. To start I chose Ezra Jack Keats because I would have to say that I think he is my favorite:)
It is not surprising that I like Ezra Jack Keats work, many people do. And of course he was recognized multiple times over during his life. But his story is so inspiring to me. He was born around the time that my grandfather was (the one I just lost and posted about a few weeks ago). He grew up in New York City and was quite poor and his family was hard hit when the Great Depression arrived. But he persevered in his art despite the fact that his father was concerned about his being able to make a living as an artist. Ezra's father Benjamin worked as a waiter in a restaurant and knew how hard it was to provide, and despite his desire to discourage Ezra from pursuing art, Benjamin brought home tubes of paint, pretending that he had traded them with penniless artists for food! Ezra remembered his father saying, "If you don't think artists starve, well, let me tell you…one man came in and swapped me a tube of paint for a bowl of soup." I love it that his dad was concerned for his welfare, but still wanted to encourage him because he was proud of his son's talent.
Ezra served in the army during World War II, like my grandfather, and then came home to pursue art. He was determined to study painting in Europe and found a way to spend a season in Paris in 1949. He returned home to New York and pursued work in commercial art. Children's book illustration sort of found him and he excelled in it. It was never his intent to do children's book illustration, but I'm so glad that he did! He illustrated during a time in our country when there was still a lot of discrimination. He himself was the victim of discrimination because of his Jewish heritage and he empathized with people who were struggling with it. Consequently, he was one of the first illustrators to make an African American child the protagonist in a story.
What I appreciate most is that Ezra painted and wrote stories about what he knew, people from his community. People we can all relate to. Many of his stories portray family live, and the simple pleasures and more complex problems that children encounter every day. He drew on his own childhood experiences for his books, like having to run from bullies or being teased by friends. But these are also the experiences that many children can relate to and that what makes his work so powerful. He also develops wonderful, memorable characters that we fall in love with.
Amy Maggie Roberto Louis Archie Jeannie
and of course Peter and his dog Willy!
I also like Ezra's approach to his artwork. He uses lots of brush strokes and strong shapes. The simplicity of the shapes are so eloquent and lend such charm to his art. And I like how he uses elements of collage as well to create his patterns. I just love studying Ezra's work!
I hope you enjoy his art as much as I do!