The »Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung« celebrated Thé Tjong-Khing’s picture book, »Waar is de taart?« (2004; t: Where is the cake?), as a »great work of little things«. It shows an illustrious animal society’s turbulent search for a coveted cake. Thé was born to a Chinese-Indonesian family in Purworedjo, on Java, in 1933. The virtuoso of Dutch comics and illustration art began his artistic education at the Seni Rupa Drawing Academy in Bandung, and continued at the arts and crafts school in Amsterdam in 1956, when he was employed by the Marten Toonder Studios. At the end of the sixties, with the copywriter Lo Hartog van Banda, he created the pop culture-inspired character »Iris.« Later their science fiction epic »Arman & Ilva« developed. Thé began working freelance and illustrated the children’s newspaper »Kris Kras«. His illustration work for Miep Diekmann’s »Total loss, weet je wel« (1973; t: Total loss, you know) was the start of an impressive career as a children’s book illustrator. The prize-winning »Vos en Haas« series (1998; t: Fox and rabbit) is among his most popular works.
After Thé had been committed to a strongly naturalistic representation in his early work he developed, from 1975 onwards, an authentically childlike drawing style in pen and ink and watercolour pencil. After illustrating the writings of Dolf Verroen, Guus Kuijer, Els Pelgrom and Annie M.G. Schmidt, »Waar is de taart?« was Thé’s first picture book that he published without words. It was awarded the Woutertje Pieterse Prize in 2005 and nominated for the German Youth Literature Prize in 2007. In its statement the jury remarked that »cleverly composed illustrations take over the storytelling; Thé fascinatingly succeeds in integrating elements from modern visual storytelling into his traditional style of illustration.« Through the striking panorama dog, cat, bear, pig and badger move from one page to the next on paths, meadows and canals. A detailed scavenger hunt presents itself to the viewer: Who ate the fruit from the tree? What is annoying the goat? And where are fox and rabbit hiding? The stroke of genius in the second volume, »Picknick met taart« (2005; t: Picnic with cake), is the variation of the framework plot: the new story revolves around a mountain which the picnic party climbs and from which they go back down to the village when the cake theft is discovered. Thé again captivates the reader as a brilliant director in the style of Robert Altman. »I think more in movements than in still pictures«, the artist said.
His works – over one hundred fifty in number – are illustrations of fairy tales and myths such as »Helden. Griekse mythen« (2006; t: Heroes. Greek myths; text: Els Pelgrom). He is the only artist to have been awarded the Golden Brush three times. In 1988 he received the Professor Pi Prize, and in 2008 he was nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Thé, who taught at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, lives in Haarlem.
© international literature festival berlin