Peter Sís (born 1949)

Die Mauer

Wie es war, hinter dem Eisernen Vorhang aufzuwachsen

Transl. into German by Michael Krüger

Munich: Hanser, 2007
[26] fol., col. pen-and-ink drawing
31 x 23.5 cm, color. hardcover

OE: The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007

"Any resemblance to the story in this book is intentional.”
The book and its history

Sís depicts his school days and youth in communist Prague with many, often small black-and-white drawings, dividing the space into frameless panels similar to the layout of a graphic novel. Interspersed little red flags punctuate this visual narrative, and brief texts in the margins read like captions. This photo-album style alternates with double pages featuring diary entries of the young Sís, surrounded by pictures he drew at the time and photographs, which lends additional authenticity to the narrative. A number or colourful double spreads illustrating his dreams and hopes for a free life add yet another layer to the story and change the narrative dynamics.
Throughout the book, Sís draws walls and barbed wire fences and informants with pig-nosed heads. He shows people trying to overcome walls, ditches, and other barriers despite constant surveillance. Finally, we see young Sís escaping the system, flying off on a bicycle with wide wings made from books and finding freedom.
From page to page Sís unfolds his rich creative repertoire, always striking a balance between fantastic ideas, formal pictorial concepts, and the reproduction of historical documents and details related to the present. This diversity makes his pictorial narratives unique, not least because they are noticeably influenced by autobiographical memories and sentiments.
"The Wall" has been translated into many languages and received over 20 awards in its first two years of publication.

Biographical note

Peter Sís, born 1949 in Brno, Czech Republic, lives north of New York City as an internationally acclaimed illustrator, graphic artist, author and creator of animated films.

Sís grew up in communist Prague in a household of artists, studied film graphics at the School of Applied Arts in Prague from 1968 to 1974, and then produced a series of animated films that attracted a great deal of attention. After participating in the Los Angeles Festival of Animated Film in 1982, he did not return to Prague. He has lived in New York since 1984 and initially made his living with illustration commissions for newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and magazines such as Time Magazine, Forbes, and Newsweek. He began writing picture books. His breakthrough as a children's book author and illustrator came in 1994 with “The Three Golden Keys”, the memoir of his hometown Prague for his little daughter, Madeleine. Sís has illustrated more than 60 children's books, which are translated into over 20 languages. He also writes the texts for many of them and keeps developing his much admired narrative style through the intricate interplay of image and text.

For some time now Peter Sís has also felt drawn to the large format. He designs murals and mosaics for public buildings, including a mosaic for a New York subway station (86th Street). Most recently, he created tapestries on the theme of human rights for Art for Amnesty, which was shown in an exhibition at the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, in winter 2017/18.

Peter Sis has received many awards, initially for individual books, including the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis (German Youth Literature Prize) for "Tibet - The Secret of the Red Box" in 1999. In 2003, he received the MacArthur Fellowship, which annually honors creative minds and scholars. Finally, he received the greatest international distinction with the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, awarded in 2013 by IBBY, the international children's book organization with worldwide activities. Most recently the Eric Carle Museum in Amhurst, Illinois, honored him with the retrospective "The Picture Book Odyssey of Peter Sís" (2019) and the DOX Art Center of Prague with the exhibition "On Flying and other Dreams" (2019/20).




Literature/Links /Interview with Peter Sís

Tapestries for Civil Rights  / Peter Sís, On Flying and Other Dreams, Exhibition, Prague 2019/20

Constance Vidor, Peter Sís. Artist of Freedom,In: Bookbird, Vol. 50, No.4, 2012

Barbara Scharioth, Peter Sís, A Quest for a Life in Truth, In: Bookbird, Vol. 47, No.3, 2009

Peter Sís, My Life with Censorship, In: Bookbird, Vol.47, No.3, 2009

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