Peter Sís

Portrait Peter Sís
© Palma Fiacco

Peter Sís , illustrator, author and filmmaker, was born in the Czech city of Brno in 1949 and is counted among the truly great representatives of international picture book art.  He studied at Prague’s Academy of Applied Arts and at the Royal College in London. In 1982 a film commission took him to the USA, where he has lived ever since.  His works include twenty-eight animated films and over sixty books, posters – among them, one for Milos Forman’s film ‘Amadeus’ (1984) – as well as theatre sets, frescoes, collages, building adornment, objects and commissions for newspapers and magazines.

Peter Sís is a wanderer between worlds. He understands how to address inner longing and how to lead his readers into a space between reality and fantasy.  His picture books are an homage to both autobiographical and historical people and places: ‘The Three Golden Keys’ (1994), edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, recalls his native city, Prague; ‘Tibet.  Through the Red Box’ (1998), deals with his father’s encounter with unexplored Tibet in the fifties; his picture book series about the small hero ‘Madlenka’ (2000) portrays his daughter’s modern, metropolis childhood in the Global Village of New York and has been broadcast as an animated cartoon on ‘Sesame Street’.

With an overflowing love of detail and fantastic expressiveness, Sís fashions a world of images full of headstrong mysteries and magic.  His illustrations captivate through graphic elegance and artistic perfection.  Using a pointillist drawing technique, he creates filigree structures which, through their colourful display, are of great suggestive power.

Peter Sís, who with ‘Follow the Dream’ (1991) and ‘Starry Messenger’ (1996) opened the doors to the wondrous and artful cabinets of history of the sciences, illustrates the life of the naturalist Charles Darwin and tells of giant sea turtles, sea crabs, toucans and flying fish in ‘The Tree of Life: A book depicting the life of Charles Darwin’. Maps, plates, sketches of animals and skeletons, vignettes and foldout double pages combine to create a “grandiose engraved picture book labyrinth”, as the ‘Luchs-Jury’ remarked. His discovery books such as those about Columbus the world sailor and the astronomer Galileo encourage children to pursue their own paths.  “I want to tell children that Galileo and Darwin were also children once, and that some child today might be tomorrow’s Darwin.”  ‘The Tree of Life’ was awarded the Bologna Ragazzi Award as the best non-fiction book (2004) and is nominated for the German Young Adults Literature Prize of 2005.

Peter Sís’s pictorial work has been exhibited worldwide.  His children’s books have been published in over thirty countries and have received international prizes, among them the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the Caldecott Medal. He was the first picture book artist to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, in 2003. His animated short film ‘Heads’ (1979) won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival back in 1980.  Peter Sís lives with his wife and two children in New York, where he designed the walls of the subway station of 86th Street/Lexington in dazzling colours in 2004.

© international literature festival berlin