written by:
July 6, 2010

Last week painter and illustrator Maira Kalman was in San Francisco to kick off the Contemporary Jewish Museum's run of her new show Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (Of a Crazy World). I had a chance to talk with Kalman and wander through the gallery with her and the show's curator Ingrid Shaffner. Check out our conversation and click on the slideshow here to get a good look at her work.

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Alongside her work, loads of Kalman's collected ephemera is on display as part of Maira Kalman Various Illuminations (Of a Crazy World). It contains just the kind of objects she loves to paint, from a pair of Junya Watanabe shoes to a vintage fez to a box
Alongside her work, loads of Kalman's collected ephemera is on display as part of Maira Kalman Various Illuminations (Of a Crazy World). It contains just the kind of objects she loves to paint, from a pair of Junya Watanabe shoes to a vintage fez to a box of cards cataloging the "Mosses of Long Island." Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World), Installation detail. Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.
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One of my favorite modes in Kalman's work is the bullseye composition with a wash of color as the background. This work, entitled "Susan," shows a droopy basset hound and appeared in the illustrated version Kalman did of Strunk and White's The Elements of
One of my favorite modes in Kalman's work is the bullseye composition with a wash of color as the background. This work, entitled "Susan," shows a droopy basset hound and appeared in the illustrated version Kalman did of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style.
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Here's the bustling work "New York Grand Central Station."
Here's the bustling work "New York Grand Central Station."
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I asked Maira to sign my copy of The Elements of Style and she made this charming little drawing of a hat for me!
Maira signed my copy of The Elements of Style and even drew me a funny hat to go with it. I'm besotted.
Originally appeared in Artist Maira Kalman at the CJM
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I snapped this photo of Maira in the gallery next to one of her ladders. The woman adores ladders.
I snapped this photo of Maira in the gallery next to one of her ladders. The woman adores ladders.
Originally appeared in Artist Maira Kalman at the CJM
6 / 20
"Pink Package" is one of the works on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the actual package itself is part of the installed ephemera. There are a couple instances of an object in a painting also being in the gallery space, something curator In
"Pink Package" is one of the works on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the actual package itself is part of the installed ephemera. There are a couple instances of an object in a painting also being in the gallery space, something curator Ingrid Schaffner said leant the show, "a touch of the uncanny."
7 / 20
"Man Dances on Salt" is also the cover image of Maira's book Principles of Uncertainty.
"Man Dances on Salt" is also the cover image of Maira's book Principles of Uncertainty.
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Though you may have seen this wartime British slogan and poster in print form or on tote bags, Kalman painted it as well. Schaffner told me that it was initially a bit of homefront propaganda during World War II, but it's certainly caught on lately. A rea
Though you may have seen this wartime British slogan and poster in print form or on tote bags, Kalman painted it as well. Schaffner told me that it was initially a bit of homefront propaganda during World War II, but it's certainly caught on lately. A real life meme!
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These sketches are the endpaper to her 2001 children's book, What Pete Ate.
These sketches are the endpaper to her 2001 children's book, What Pete Ate.
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Here you can see a pair of chairs set up facing a pie chest. The chest is Kalman's and it's full of linens. Maira told me that it's something of a tradition amongst the women of her family to press their linens and she wanted to have that ritual, as well
Here you can see a pair of chairs set up facing a pie chest. The chest is Kalman's and it's full of linens. Maira told me that it's something of a tradition amongst the women of her family to press their linens and she wanted to have that ritual, as well as the object itself, as part of the ephemera in the show. Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World), Installation detail. Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.
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This work is called Crosstown Boogie Woogie and was her first New Yorker cover in December, 1995.
This work is called Crosstown Boogie Woogie and was her first New Yorker cover in December, 1995.
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Here's a photo of Maira Kalman and her beloved dog Pete. Portrait courtesy of Rick Meyerowitz, who you can hear chatting with Maira about the New Yorkistan New Yorker cover they did together at the show.
Here's a photo of Maira Kalman and her beloved dog Pete. Portrait courtesy of Rick Meyerowitz, who you can hear chatting with Maira about the New Yorkistan New Yorker cover they did together at the show.
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Woman with Face Net is the image the Contemporary Jewish Museum is using to promote the show Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (Of a Crazy World).
Woman with Face Net is the image the Contemporary Jewish Museum is using to promote the show Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (Of a Crazy World).
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Here's another view of that vitrine with Kalman's ephemera. She told me that she wore the brown shoes, which are too big for her, "in the hope of slowing down time." She then mimed slow, massive steps for me as we continued around the gallery.
Maira Kalma
Here's another view of that vitrine with Kalman's ephemera. She told me that she wore the brown shoes, which are too big for her, "in the hope of slowing down time." She then mimed slow, massive steps for me as we continued around the gallery. Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World), Installation detail. Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.
15 / 20
An image by Kalman, created for <a href=“http://www.tabletmag.com/arts-and-culture/737/my-tel-aviv/”>Tablet Magazine</a>.
This picture of a Bauhaus building in Tel Aviv was commissioned by the hip Jewish magazine Tablet as a series of illustrations Kalman did based on a wander around the city of her birth.
Originally appeared in Artist Maira Kalman at the CJM
16 / 20
This piece, Dog Reads Book, was also a New Yorker cover. It's amazing how the thing changes with the addition of that black text at the top.
This piece, Dog Reads Book, was also a New Yorker cover. It's amazing how the thing changes with the addition of that black text at the top.
17 / 20
New Yorkistan, 2001, by Maira Kalman and Rick Meyerowitz. Gouache and pencil on paper.
Here's Kalman's most famous New Yorker cover: New Yorkistan. She said it came about when she and her friend Rick Meyerowitz were in a cab up to the Bronx talking about all these tribal places in Afghanistan that they'd never heard of and then began riffing on how tribal New York City can be. Before long they had dozens of names and the map was born.
Originally appeared in Artist Maira Kalman at the CJM
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Schaffner told me that this image is the first of Kalman's published work. It's from 1978.
Schaffner told me that this image is the first of Kalman's published work. It's from 1978.
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Here's a soldier Kalman painting, one of the many portraits in the show.
Here's a soldier Kalman painting, one of the many portraits in the show.
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This is one of Kalman's best, and gets to the heart of her work and the worldview it suggests. Entitled, Self Portrait with Pete, it shows her at home with her beloved dog. One of the best bits of the Kalman show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum is a vid
This is one of Kalman's best, and gets to the heart of her work and the worldview it suggests. Entitled, Self Portrait with Pete, it shows her at home with her beloved dog. One of the best bits of the Kalman show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum is a video Kalman's son made of her playing the accordion for Pete, who looks to be lulled into a hilarious stupor by the woozy waltz.

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