22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Józef Wilkoń

Portrait Józef Wilkoń
© Hartwig Klappert

Józef Wilkoń was born in the Polish town of Bogucice near Wieliczka in 1930. He went on to study painting and art history in Krakow. Since the 1950s he has illustrated picture books, of which more than 100 have been published in Polish and some 70 in German. His books have been published in more than 10 other languages as well.

Wilkoń’s début on the German-language book market was his illustration of »Der Kranich mit dem einen Bein« (1963; tr. »The Crane With One Leg«, text by Paul Schaaf), a fable about mastering difficult situations with humour. In »Herr Minkepatt und seine Freunde« (1965; tr. »Mr Minkepatt and his Friends«, text by Ursula Valentin) his next work was a book about an unusual man who can perfectly imitate the melodies of birds on his piano. »Löwenkinder« (1968; tr. »Lion Children«, text by Janosch), Wilkoń’s third book in Germany and still one his best-known, tells the story of three young lions in a zoo who get lost one night and find themselves with a female tiger. No less well-known is his book »Leopanther. Eine Liebesgeschichte« (1991; tr. »Leopanther. A Love Story«, text by Piotr Wilkoń), the moving story of a love that overcomes the greatest of contrasts. The four books named here represent just a small selection from Wilkoń’s vast body of work, but exemplify how animals have always been at the core of his illustrative art. His bold strokes, vividly colourful lighting and imaginative playfulness are a feast for the eyes. Wilkoń’s illustrations dance, are extremely expressive and often simply suggest rather than depict realistically. With the merest of means, they express the full scope of dynamism and emotion that could be expected of an extraordinary picture book. Wilkoń’s style is far removed from the often sober illustrations of contemporary picture books. Thanks to the Hanover-based Gimpel Verlag publishing house, »Tallula. Königin der Nacht« (2012; tr. »Tallulah. Queen of the Night«, text by Adam Jaromir), the journey of self-discovery of a small bat, Wilkoń once again has shown himself to be an artist at the height of his powers, not least as an illustrator of animals, in the 21st century as well.

Józef Wilkoń is one the greats on the international illustration scene and can look back on a 50-year career of outstanding success. His works are displayed in many places in Europe and Asia. He has received numerous awards, including the German Children’s Literature Award (1966) as well as the top prizes at the Biennale of Illustrations in Bratislava (1969 and 1973) and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (1980 and 1991). In addition to his work as a painter and illustrator, he has also worked as a sculptor for many years. Józef Wilkoń lives in Zalesie Dolne in Poland.