The Flemish book illustrator was born in 1969 on the Belgian-French border. He studied graphic design at the St. Lukas Art Academy in Ghent, where he still lives. He initially worked at an advertising agency, before publishing his first illustrated book, »Varkentjes van Marsepein« (tr: Marzipan piglets) in 1996. »My illustrations extend beyond the visible. My readers have the freedom to complete them in their heads. This often confuses adults, but never children«, says Carll Cneut about his illustrious creations. For instance, the first page of his picture book »Willy« (1999) only shows a small part of a trunk and two elephant feet, leaving it to the viewer to mentally complete the picture. In 2002, he made his debut as an author with »The Amazing Love Story of Mr. Morf«, which tells of a circus dog famous for his tightrope act who decides to leave the lonely fame of the circus ring to look for love. As in his other works, his lovingly detailed, unusually patinated illustrations draw the reader in. They are reminiscent of priceless embroideries, textiles and wall tapestries, reminding us of the works of old masters while being modern and contemporary. That his figures have a visible past, is just as important to Cneut as their clothes and surroundings. His illustrations thus emerge from multiple layers of acrylic paint, pastels, leaf gold and coffee. In 2005 Cneut’s reinterpretation of the painting »Dulle Griet« (tr: Mad Meg) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder caused a stir. In collaboration with the author Geert De Kockere he tells the tale of Mad Meg, a peasant woman who descends into hell and asks the Devil for his hand in marriage; it is a challenging illustrated book that far exceeds the boundaries of the genre of children’s books. Here too Cneut favors picture compositions filled with tension. »Sometimes he accentuates empty areas as associative spaces, sometimes he crams his figures so close together that not the slightest gap remains. The intermingling of illustrative and emotional elements thus becomes palpable« (Süddeutsche Zeitung). His most recent book to appear in German translation, »Der goldene Käfig« (2015, tr: The golden cage), tells the story of a spoiled princess who gets everything she wants and one day desires to have a speaking bird. The dramatic, poetic fairytale by the author Anna Castagnoli, with its subjects not only of power and obsession but also of change and patience, enters immediately into a dialog with Cneut’s intensive imagery throughout the book.
Cneut has been teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent since 2005. Recognized internationally for his illustrations, he was awarded the Golden Plaque in Bratislava (2003 and 2005) and the Zilveren Penseel (2003 and 2010), among others.