22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Wolf Erlbruch

Portrait Wolf Erlbruch
© Ali Gandtschi

The jury of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, which he received in 2006 for his work as an illustrator, called him a »magician«. Wolf Erlbruch, born in Wuppertal in 1948, is one of the great contemporary picture book illustrators. He studied graphic design at the Folkwang University in Essen, worked in the advertising field and had his illustrations featured in magazines such as »Esquire«, »GQ« and »Stern«. When he was given the opportunity to illustrate the children’s book »Der Adler der nicht fliegen wollte« (1985; Eng. »The Eagle That Would Not Fly«, 1988), by James Aggrey, his world career began. With his picture book, »Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat« (Eng. »The Story of the Little Mole who Knew it was none of his Business«, 1994; »The Story of the Little Mole who Went in Search of Whodunit«, 1993), he soon reached cult status.

Erlbruch’s approach has influenced the picture book tradition since the 1990s. His compositions captivate the reader with great artistry in his use of diverse materials, such as collaged paper, pastels, graph paper, topographical maps and stamps. Erlbruch’s works take on existential themes such as the meaning of life, as in his book »Die Große Frage« (2004; Eng. »The big question«, 2005), and also include simple stories such as »Frau Meier, die Amsel« (1995; Eng. »Mrs. Meier, the bird«, 1997). He is most notable for his expressive drawings of characters. »Die Menschenfresserin« (1996; t: The people eater), which follows the story by Valérie Dayre, »is like a heavy blow« (Jens Thiele). In the tradition of Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico, the artist tells the story of a fury who, blind with greed, devours her own child. He comments the fatal moment with a blank space. Responding to the question of why there are empty spaces in his books, he said, »Open spaces are always spaces where one can project his or her own fantasies […]. If one is forced to linger on simple things, one has to move in one’s mind«. After designing opulent works, in his most recent picture books Erlbruch has proved himself a master of reduction. In the creation story told by Bart Moeyaert, »Am Anfang«, (2003; t: In the beginning), Erlbruch paints wide, glazed expanses of watercolour next to fine drawings and collages. His book »Ente, Tod und Tulpe« (2007; Eng. »Duck, Death and the Tulip«, 2008) tells of death in minimalist pictures. The picture book is a »virtuoso piece in dealing with the greatest of all human-related subjects«, wrote the »Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung«, »negotiated between a slightly naïve duck and a very charming Grim Reaper«.

Erlbruch has taken on a prominent role as an artist and teacher in the past decades. In 1990 he was appointed professor for illustration at the Düsseldorf Polytechnic Institute of Art, and he has taught at the Architecture/Design/Art faculty at the Bergische Universität Wuppertal since 1997. Erlbruch’s books have been published and awarded prizes worldwide, including the Bologna Ragazzi Award (three times), the Troisdorf Picture Book Prize (2000), the German Youth Literature Award’s special prize (2003) and the Leipzig Gutenberg Prize (2003). Erlbruch is married and has one son. He lives in Wuppertal.

© international literature festival berlin