The Mind & Art of Maurice Sendak: A Video Sketch

Like the chil­dren in his books, Mau­rice Sendak, at age 83, is doing the best he can to nav­i­gate a fright­en­ing and bewil­der­ing world. “We all have to find our way,” Sendak says in this reveal­ing lit­tle film from the Tate muse­ums. “If I could find my way through pic­ture-mak­ing and book illus­tra­tion, or what­ev­er you want to call it, I’d be okay.”

In books like In the Night Kitchen, Where the Wild Things Are and Out­side, Over There, Sendak has explored the wonders–and terrors–of child­hood. “No one,” wrote Dave Eggers recent­ly in Van­i­ty Fair, “has been more uncom­pro­mis­ing, more idio­syn­crat­ic, and more in touch with the unhinged and chiaroscuro sub­con­scious of a child.”

Sendak’s own child­hood in Brook­lyn, New York, was a time of emo­tion­al trau­ma. His par­ents were Pol­ish immi­grants who had trou­ble adjust­ing to life in Amer­i­ca. On the day of Sendak’s bar­mitz­vah, his father learned that his entire fam­i­ly had been killed in the Holo­caust. He remem­bered the sad­ness of look­ing through fam­i­ly scrap­books. “The shock of think­ing I would nev­er know them was ter­ri­ble,” Sendak told the Guardian ear­li­er this year. “Who were they?”

This ear­ly sense of the pre­car­i­ous­ness of life car­ried over into his work. As the play­wright Tony Kush­n­er wrote of Sendak in 2003:

Mau­rice, among the best of the best, shocks deeply, touch­ing on the mor­tal, the insup­port­ably sad or unjust, even on the car­nal, on the pri­mal rather than the mere­ly prim­i­tive. He pitch­es chil­dren, includ­ing aged chil­dren, out of the famil­iar and into mys­tery, and then into under­stand­ing, wis­dom even. He pitch­es chil­dren through fan­ta­sy into human adult­hood, that rare, hard-won and, let’s face it, trag­ic con­di­tion.

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