August 13, 2015


2016 Calendars: Wall with Stickers—Charley Harper; Incredible Insects—Christopher Marley; Inuit Art—Cape Dorset; B. Kliban Cats. Pomegranate Kids. $14.99 each.

     Just when you think there is nothing really new that can be done with the redoubtable wall calendar, along comes a genuinely novel idea that expands the wall-calendar concept into interactive territory with a very pleasant spin. These four calendars are highly attractive in themselves, suitable for just about any wall anywhere, depending on each person’s individual interests. But they allow even more individual expression than simply the selection of art that you happen to like: each comes with more than 150 reusable stickers that build on and expand the art of the calendar pages and provide a wonderful way to mark special dates, upcoming events, can’t-miss appointments, or just about anything else. Or you can simply decorate the entire calendar with the stickers in any way you choose, personalizing it to a degree not otherwise possible – and then take all the decorative stickers off and use them in different arrangements or designs.

     This is entirely too much fun to be confined to children, and even though the calendars are labeled as coming from Pomegranate Kids, they are more than suitable for all ages – in fact, each calendar notes that it is for “ages 3 to 103,” which seems about right. The biggest issue here is deciding which will be the most fun for you and your family, friends, colleagues or anyone else whose walls you may want to regale with these delightful year-long enjoyments. The Charley Harper calendar, for example, features 12 months of Harper’s geometrically intricate drawings of animals: he was remarkable in the way in which he reduced each animal he portrayed to its essential shapes, then rendered it in such a way that the result looks almost more lifelike than the real-world animal – yet at the same time not “realistic” at all. Harper’s was a unique blend of animal understanding and artistic license, and some of his creations as shown on this calendar are exceptionally effective. He was especially good with birds, and his rendition of a stylized male cardinal amid a pine forest whose trees are equally stylized and shaped just like the bird’s body deserves to be a classic. Almost equally good is his portrait of a mother bird feeding her three nestlings. And speaking of mothers and babies, Harper’s portrayal of a mother and baby koala is even more endearing-looking than are the animals themselves – if that is possible. The koala art shows how well Harper could handle non-bird creatures – a fact that is demonstrated equally clearly here in a couple of months featuring his renditions of insects. The drawing of a crowd of ladybugs (or ladybirds, if you prefer to continue the “bird” motif) is especially captivating.

     For a much stronger insect focus, though, you may want to consider Incredible Insects by Christopher Marley, who is a kind of poet of the small world. The Harper calendar offers stickers that showcase Harper’s art but display the animals he portrays in a size smaller than their real ones. The Marley calendar, on the other hand, presents stickers that show insects in their real-life sizes or larger – rendered by Marley in such a way as to showcase their brilliant colors and patterns, which Marley likes to set up to form additional, intricate arrangements worthy of a Busby Berkeley display. One month’s offering shows row after row of beetles, each row in a different color, each color fading into the next, in a style reminiscent of that of some of the woodcuts of M.C. Escher. Other months feature butterflies – here, a single one shown very large and in detail; there, 15 of a similar type arranged in a pattern that beautifully showcases their varying and intricate coloration. Between the vivid portrayals of insects accompanying each month’s layout and the many additional ones in the sticker collection, Incredible Insects is a calendar as bright and distinctive as insects themselves – but quite suitable and enjoyable even for people who would just as soon not encounter too many bugs in real life.

     The life of the Inuit people of Cape Dorset, which lies in the far northern Canadian territory of Nunavut, is intimately bound up with creatures of an entirely different sort: walruses and sea birds, musk oxen and Arctic foxes. The people of Cape Dorset have a unique, immediately recognizable artistic style in their portrayal of the animals surrounding them – the flowing lines of the birds they create, for example, would never be confused with the geometric exactitude of Charley Harper. The 2016 Inuit Art—Cape Dorset calendar is bright and colorful, far more so than the often drab area where the art was produced, and shows a wide variety of artistic styles that nevertheless have in common their keen observation of creatures drawn from life plus a willingness, in some cases, to show the animals in poses that are highly stylized and that portray meldings of animals that would never coexist peacefully in real life. In addition to the collage-like effects of showing multiple animals of various types, the calendar presents some striking portraits of single animals or small groups, such as a trio of polar bears. The stickers here show some of the same animals portrayed in the large one-per-month drawings and some different ones, allowing each calendar owner to create his or her own Arctic menagerie and display it seriously or, in line with a few of the Inuit drawings here, whimsically.

     Whimsicality reaches a higher level in portrayals of much more familiar animals in the B. Kliban Cats calendar for 2016 – although, really, Kliban cats are scarcely familiar in the real world at all, despite the fact that they sometimes seem to act like real cats. But only sometimes. The super-plump feline self-admiring in a mirror certainly seems to partake of real felinity, but not so the one playing the trombone – or the one playing the fiddle in a scene suggesting a time just before the cow jumped over the moon. Kliban was a master of gentle whimsy, showing one cat lounging on his back in a birdbath and another staring from behind a tree at the Easter bunny, who is noticeably discomfited and annoyed. Elsewhere, the look of amazement and desire on the face of the cat staring at a cooked Thanksgiving turkey seems altogether appropriate, while the three wide-eyed cats dancing are simply wonderful in what seems to be a midsummer night’s feline dream (a conclusion based on the tiny winged “cat fairy” hovering above the dancers). Kliban’s cats are instantly recognizable and seem at first glance to resemble each other closely. But in fact each of them is sufficiently individualized so that the stickers with this calendar provide many, many different ways of marking special dates or creating your own cat-alogue of all-year-long events that may be cat-aclysmic or cat-astrophic but are sure to be cat-chy and possibly even cat-hartic.

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