Arts & Culture

Wiesner exhibit evokes childhood nostalgia

RISD Building Gallery display gives prominence to aesthetic vibrancy of children’s literature

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, September 10, 2018

The RISD Illustration Studies Building Gallery features work of three-time Caldecott Medal winner and RISD alum David Wiesner.

“Journeys in Visual Storytelling” has arrived at the Rhode Island School of Design Illustration Studies Building Gallery just in time to remind students of their halcyon days of childhood. The exhibition, which will run through Oct. 7, highlights the works of children’s literature written and illustrated by three-time Caldecott Medal winner and RISD alum David Wiesner, celebrating the artistic merit of his stories.

The exhibition features two of Wiesner’s books, “Art & Max” and “Mr. Wuffles”, and includes page displays and Wiesner’s preliminary sketches, covers, models and dummy books.

The “Art & Max” exhibit is about two lizards who paint together, and throughout the events of the story, one of the characters draws over the other. Because of this, one character takes on many textures, composed of different artistic mediums such as watercolor, pastel and ink. Wiesner, who took over two years to create this book, attributes his inspiration to “a desire to work with different media,” Wiesner said.

“As I began to pull out different types of paints and materials, I started playing with them to recall their feel,” Wiesner said, and described how he used various media to draw roguish characters.

“Mr. Wuffles” is set from a cat’s point of view. While the cat plays with a toy spaceship, aliens that live in the spaceship befriend insects to try to defeat the cat. After shelving the work for eight years, suddenly “everything clicked.” Soon after, Mr. Wuffles was finished. Susan Doyle, head of RISD’s illustration department, noted the contrast in color palettes between the cat’s home and the aliens’ spaceship and pointed out the apparent thoughtfulness that characterizes Wiesner’s work.

Wiesner’s work has “an element of fantasy but (is) drawn very realistically,” Doyle said, also noting Wiesner’s attention to detail and imagination.

The exhibition also features an iPad displaying Spot, an iOS application created by Wiesner. The storybook application serves as a visual adventure experience in which, by pinching and zooming, viewers may move to different worlds.

“Spot goes back to my time at RISD when I played around with the idea of worlds within worlds,” Wiesner said. Wiesner tried for years to use that concept in a book, but when he first saw the pinch and zoom feature of an iPad, he realized that “this would be the perfect way for (viewers) to explore connected worlds.” For each transition, Wiesner had to create around a dozen large paintings.

Wiesner, who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration, recalled RISD as a school that he was “waiting for his whole life to go to.” Not only did he enjoy the school, but he was inspired by the architecture of the surrounding city. “When I draw neighborhoods, I tend to make them look like Providence,” Wiesner said.

Eileen Holland RISD ’19, a student who helped set up the exhibition, found that Weisner’s process of developing the final narrative and the compositions of his illustrations were the most fascinating aspects of the exhibition. “From the initial rough sketches to compositional studies on tracing paper, color studies and even clay models of the characters, there is a great deal of planning and experimenting that was necessary to create the finished product,” Holland said.

Jacqueline Lee RISD ’20 similarly noted that the exhibition reveals the art of creating works themselves. “My favorite part of the exhibition is the effort David puts in the planning phase of the artwork,” Lee said. “Being able to see all of the incarnations of one page or all of the ‘dummy’ versions of a story puts into perspective the work it takes to make a narrative.”

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Comments are closed.

Comments are closed. If you have corrections to submit, you can email The Herald at