I recently came across the name of Belgian author and illustrator Kitty Crowther in a book on Picture books. Fascinated by the fact that she was one of the youngest recipients of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2010, I had to look up her work. And what a delight it was!
Crowther is a master of the picture book medium, using mainly pencil, colored pen and inks. She works in an intuitive and inspired way. The jury judges said: “In Crowther’s world, the door between imagination and reality is wide open. She addresses the reader gently and personally, but with profound effect.”
Her intense exploration of themes from mythical creatures to the varied sides of our personalities and the idiosyncrasies that make us human, are inspiring. While many picture books deal with unusual topics such as depression and isolation, Crowther looks for layers of meaning under these issues. Consider her discourse on the inspiration for her book, Mère Méduse (Mama Medusa) – a story about a very protective and unusual mother, Medusa and her very normal little girl, Irisée who just wants to play with the other children and go to school:
“We are all responsible for those people who struggle in life. Those borderline types. I get very upset with publicity photos showing the perfect family. There are so many types of family. So why is the one that’s shown always dad/mum/daughter/son?
I was thinking about what makes a mother. Even though some mothers seem to love wrongly, it’s still love. So my Medusa is very possessive towards her lovely daughter because she wants to protect her in the way that she herself hasn’t been protected in her life.
I am also fascinated with Medusa from Greek mythology. I felt a lot of empathy for her and I wondered why! She has this terrible appearance and would let no-one love her. But it’s an upside-down story again; she has been abused by Poseidon (in one version of the myth) and punished by Athena… And so my Medusa is a descendant. (In the myth, Medusa gives birth to Chrysaor and Pegasus from her neck after Perseus beheads her.) And I do believe that these dramas are linked, and travel through the generations. One can decide to face it or not, but it does hide in the genes. I don’t have a very scientific side, but more an intuitive side. That’s how we have a therapies called ‘constellation familiale’ (family constellation) which I find very interesting. Interesting to see how things are linked to one another.
My Medusa refuses to be this young/old witch woman. She wants to be beautiful. So we had to find a way. The little girl was very much there from the beginning. And I put a story from the west coast of Sweden where my Morfar (Grandfather) came from. I also used colours as if they were music notes.
Well, there is a lot to say about it. I could also talk about the jellyfish, which I find fascinating. I actually sent a copy of ‘Mother Medusa’ to a big specialist of jellyfish in France, Jacqueline Goy. And she very kindly wrote back to tell me that she would invite me to the inauguration of a new museum of jellyfish in Paris. Can’t wait!
And we could also talk about hair; the evolution of the hairstyle. And what it meant to have very long hair in each century. It’s also a form of freedom; to let it loose. We also hear that to have long hair is a form of power… Well, I could go on till the day turns into night. But I’d better stop here.”
Read more on Kitty Crowther’s beautiful work here.
Judges called Crowther “the master of line but also of atmosphere”. In Annie du lac (2009), three islands in a lake turn out to be three giants, who help Annie (pictured) find a way out of loneliness. Photograph: Pastel L’école des loisirs