Blue horses, polka-dotted donkeys and more at ‘Eric Carle: Animals and Friends’

This Eric Carle illustration for his 2011 book "The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse" is on display at the Montclair Art Museum through Jan. 3, as part of the "Eric Carle: Animals and Friends" exhibit.

This Eric Carle illustration for his 2011 book “The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse” is on display at the Montclair Art Museum through Jan. 3, as part of the “Eric Carle: Animals and Friends” exhibition.

An art museum can’t get much more family-friendly than the Montclair Art Museum is getting with its “Eric Carle: Animals and Friends” exhibition, which opens on Sept. 13 and runs through Jan. 3.

Several generations have grown up on “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and Carle’s many other children’s books, in which he creates an illusion of texture by a collage technique: He paints tissue paper, then cuts out pieces and pastes them together in the form of the illustration. You can look at any picture in one of his books and immediately know it’s one of his.

Eric Carle's front cover illustration for his 2012 book, "Friends."

Eric Carle’s front cover illustration for his 2012 book, “Friends.”

“Eric Carle: Animals and Friends,” organized in conjunction with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., features more than 60 of Carle’s works, plus a “Reading Nook” where children can read his books. The theme of animal and friends was suggested by two of his recent books, “The Artist who Painted a Blue Horse” (2011) and “Friends” (2013).

Carle’s paintings are loved by children because they are colorful and quirky and express a kind of wide-awed awe at the wonders of nature. As any parent who has read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” — or “Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?,” or “The Grouchy Ladybug” — over and over to a child knows, they can be strikingly beautiful when you stop and take a long look of them.

The incredible thing about them is that they capture the nature of the animal, or the child, without being realistic, in terms of color and shape. If you put some of them on a 1970s rock album cover, they could almost be seen as psychedelic.

Carle, now 86, grew up in Nazi Germany, where modern art was forbidden. Yet an art teacher showed him the fanciful animal paintings of German artist Franz Marc, and he was hooked.

“My green lion, polka-dotted donkey and other animals painted in the ‘wrong’ colors were really born that day 70 years ago,” Carle recently said.

An illustration for "Do Bears Have Mothers Too?" (1972)

One of Eric Carle’s illustration for “Do Bears Have Mothers Too?” (1972) is on display at the Montclair Art Museum through Jan. 3.

“Eric Carle: Animals and Friends” looks beyond his book images, though, with sketches; some of the commercial art he made early in his career; two of the 10 posters he made in 1972 for a series on endangered species; an excerpt from a 1997 video of him talking about his technique on the children’s television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and more. Some of his endpaper designs for his books are displayed as abstract art.

A Sept. 12 Lawn Party at the museum will offer a first look at the exhibition, plus music, food vendors and other attractions.

And Eric Carle Family Day, on Nov. 15, will feature art projects inspired by the exhibition, a toy workshop and more.

For information, visit montclairartmuseum.org.

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