Sempe exhibition offers lofty vision of the world

Tue Oct 25, 2011 12:23pm EDT
 
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By Vicky Buffery

PARIS (Reuters) - From his Paris apartment, cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempe can look out over the city's rooftops, a fitting spot for a man who seems to prefer looking at the world from an elevated angle.

But as a new exhibition of his work in Paris shows, it's the close-up detail in his drawings, the kind that takes a moment to notice, that captures the essence of his subject and pokes fun at the vanity of human nature.

At 79, Sempe (pronounced Som-pay) is well known in France and abroad for his cheeky 1950s schoolboy Le Petit Nicolas (Little Nicholas), co-created with Asterix author Rene Goscinny.

But it is his mastery of panoramic cityscapes, drawn from a high viewpoint and with a gently ironic touch, that has sealed his international reputation, earning him regular spots on the cover of The New Yorker, as well as in Paris Match and L'Express.

In one drawing, the viewer looks down at a typical Parisian street corner, a grand 19th-century apartment building complete with an awning-shaded cafe terrace at street level.

But as the eye scans down, it comes to two buses that have collided in the street, then right at the bottom, the bobbing heads of dozens of irate passengers who have piled off the vehicles to rant at each other about who was at fault.

The scene says a lot about a country where contrarianism is close to a national sport. But the lofty angle leaves you smiling at the overall futility of it all.

"His work is a permanent reminder of the human condition," said Marc Lecarpentier, curator of "Un peu de Paris et d'ailleurs" (A Bit of Paris and Elsewhere), a retrospective of the French artist's six-decade career which opened on Friday in Paris city hall.   Continued...

 
<p>A New Yorker cover by cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempe included in "Un peu de Paris et d'ailleurs" (A Bit of Paris and Elsewhere), a retrospective of the French artist's six-decade career, at Paris city hall. REUTERS/J.-J. Semp&eacute;/Courtesy of Semp&eacute; &agrave; New York</p>