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Paris pays homage to its biggest fan, Sempe
“It’s all in my head. I work at a desk inside my apartment. All I have in front of me is a blank sheet of paper,” he said, taking a deep drag on his cigarette.
Sempe’s early career working for French publications _ from the hometown Sud-Ouest Dimanche newspaper to L’Express newsweekly and Paris Match gossip magazine _ helped him conquer his fear of the blank page. But it was his “Le Petit Nicolas” series of children’s books that propelled Sempe to stardom in France.
A collaboration with Rene Goscinny _ author of the mythic “Asterix and Obelix” cartoon series _ the tales of a mischievous but goodhearted schoolboy named Nicolas remain classics more than fifty years after they were first published. The exhibit includes a section of the original India ink illustrations for the book.
But it was his work for the New Yorker that won Sempe international acclaim. In eyepopping watercolors, his quirky covers are quietly amusing reflections on life’s simple pleasures.
Sempe first visited the Big Apple in 1965, spending 15 days there as a tourist.
It would be more than a decade until he made his 1978 debut with the New Yorker _ which he calls “an incredible magazine where all the best illustrators worked.”
“New York was so strange, it was another world,” said Sempe.
New York was the only world, in fact, to be able to rival Paris’ magnetic pull on him. Sempe returned again and again, capturing the city through his uniquely French lens.
A pen and ink drawing of a New Yorkers lunching on the go as they work might strike the average Manhattanite as banal, but in Paris, where lunches are meant to drag on for hours and never involve anything as pedestrian as office work, the scene is fraught with irony.
Despite its unequivocal French-ness, Sempe’s work touches a universal nerve, portraying culture-crossing human follies and neuroses that are sure to make you laugh _ whether or not your French is strong enough to fully parse out the captions.
The exhibition opens on Friday and runs at Paris’ Hotel de Ville through Feb. 11.
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