Draftsman, illustrator and spirit of inexhaustible inventiveness, the artist died on Saturday, February 9 at the age of 87 years.
The cross had met him for his 80th birthday then, last April, on the occasion of the publication of "No yes or no. Answers to 100 philosophical questions of children "(1). He told himself about it through his existential questions.
April 2018. He is dressed in black as the three unforgettable brigands he designed for children. Long-limbed figure with almost graphic style, Tomi Ungerer, keeps a juvenile look despite his moon-colored hair and the cane he holds in his hand.
Enthusiastic and mischievous, the father of Giant of Zéralda, from Jean of the Moon and Crictor left his Irish farm to come to Paris to present his new book, a book of answers to philosophical questions of children, born of his collaboration with Philosophy Magazine.
World famous with his books for youth, Tomi Ungerer has approached this different experience with greed. "I did not like the exercise, I loved it … but it's essentially for vanity!he comments, mischievous, with his Alsatian accent. I am without a degree and it was a challenge for me to write for an intellectual journal. "
To go poaching on lands that were a priori inaccessible, the idea could only seduce this free and curious spirit. He tried to play the philosopher, without seriousness, refusing the intellectualism and rationalism of which he distrusts. "I do not reason only to be reasonable. If a mystery proves to be inexplicable, then it feeds our imagination and water our dreams! "he warns, from the introduction.
Respect for children
"How do we know if someone loves us? ", "Why do the big guys always say they do not have the time? ", "Why do some people like to make fun? "… Tomi Ungerer takes seriously the children of whom he has always had the greatest respect, and their questions that "Sometimes pose as a plane on the runway, sometimes like a bird on the branch".
With lightness, poetry, sincerity – and sometimes some pirouettes that can leave the reader uncomfortable – Tomi Ungerer offers his vision of life as an answer. He proceeds by small touches, witticisms, aphorisms, remaining an illustrator, in whom the thoughts are given first to see, and a traveler, who speaks, thinks and dreams in three languages (French, German, English) which Shocks give rise to new word games and perspectives.
Tomi Ungerer, a feature for peace in Strasbourg
Its purpose is modest and assumes a certain relativism. "I hate conversations that turn to argument. That's why my motto is: "As long as everyone is right, everyone is wrong." "
Refusal of injustice and taste of effort
But this sensitive man also has convictions, which he distills over the pages: the refusal of violence born of a childhood lived under the Nazi yoke; the aversion to injustice and bourgeois rapacity of one who knew misery in New York, before succeeding in the advertising display and publishing; the taste for effort and education of a self-taught person who has "Everything learned in books"…
His own childhood had seen many dramas. He is 3 years old when his father dies of sepsis, then he passes his young years locked up at home because of a failing health. When he is 8, war breaks out. Soon, Alsace is annexed and little Tomi discovers the Nazi propaganda at school … "I was born with anxiety, he confirms today. I was a little hypersensitive boy … There are children more sensitive than others. That's why I defend them so much. "
Meeting with the designer Tomi Ungerer, eternal boy
Her adult responses to the big questions of the little ones often make you smile, but humor is here a way to fight despair. "Life is a test to overcome in an unfair and violent world, as well as preventing children"he writes without warning. "I am deeply desperatehe confirms in the conversation. But if life is a valley of tears, learn to swim right away ! " he slips, facetious.
Pessimism and gratitude
Those who love the heroes of Ungerer know that this despair was fruitful. "I believe it essential to artistic creation," He slips. He never gets degraded into cynicism. "I have lived all my life in doubt and I have always refused to hope, but I compensate for that with an intense need for gratitude," says the illustrator, "Unbeliever" but who received a solid Protestant Christian education:
" She gave me a taste for integrity, compassion, forgiveness and above all goodwill. "I pray every night, even though I do not know where my prayer goes and what happens to the abandoned prayers. I never ask for anything, but I need to express my gratitude. »« The gratin of my gratitudeHe concluded, again hilarious, but without irony.
"Tomi Ungerer, the hitter", a faithful portrait
Elodie Maurot (and Yaël Eckert)