If there’s one person in Poland who could paint an entire Noah’s Ark in less than a week, it’s Wilkoń. Well, he already did – and believe me, you really want to see it.
Józef Wilkoń (if you really want to pronounce it, it would be something like [Youzev Vilkogne], the last part sounding similar to [cologne]) was born in 1930, and to this day is one of the greatest, best known Polish illustrators, painters, and sculptors.
His main topic are animals. He learnt to love them as a child growing up in the countryside, very close to farm animals, dogs, cats and birds. In 1959 the first book with his illustrations was published: O kotku, który szukał czarnego mleka by H. Bechlerowa (About the kitten who was looking for black milk). After many years Wilkoń said about his creative process:
I remember, I picked up a wide brush and in just one stroke I managed to bring out the feline silhouette, its gracefulness and pace. Then I realised I’ve found my own way. Own style.
And he did.
That’s true, it may look a bit crude. But even in this – very juvenile – picture you can see this own Wilkoń’s style, bold with colours, a bit geometrical, and able to catch the personality of painted animals. Don’t tell me your cat does not look at you the same way.
After that came years and years of improvement: almost 200 books illustrated, many of them published worldwide. I’m going to show you some of his works, underneath the pictures you’ll fine the autor and name of the book; I’ve put the English title in parentheses). Just take a look at them:
Ulf Stark, Mały Asmodeusz (Little Asmodeus)
Adam Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz (Pan Tadeusz)
Czesław Janczarski, Tygrys o złotym sercu (Tiger with a heart of gold)
Józef Wilkoń, Kici Kici Miau (Kitty Kitty Miaow Miaow)
Agnieszka Wolny-Hamkało, Rzecz o tym, jak paw wpadł w staw (How a Peacock Fell into a Pond)
But, of course I’ve promised you The Jungle Book. And I’ll deliver. Or rather Wilkoń will. The book was published by Media Rodzina in 2009, and it’s still available on Amazon in two different covers, inside it’s the same (look for “Ksiega dzungli”, as it’s in Polish). Without any futher ado:
Sure, that’s not all of them, but you can see the pattern (I love the seals, I’m definitely having it on the wall in case of any children of my own). But Wilkoń didn’t stop there. For years he’s been developing an idea of spatial illustration, and he picked up the sculpting tools. Well, an axe, mostly. But look at it! Isn’t it gorgeous?
Anyway, if you want to learn more, he’s a nice video from one of the many exhibitions of WIlkoń’s works, with English subtitles, thanks to Bzik Kulturalny and Culture.pl.
In conclusion, let me just quote Wilkoń:
How the illustration is born? Very easily, if one know some things. In the beginning one have to know how everything they want to paint looks like: a human, a fish, a bird, a leaf, or an animal. Then one need to know how it moves: everything that runs, crawls, swims, and flies. For many it’s an end of education. Some people go further, though: they can paint the time of the day, moon that shines, bird that sings, they can even paint sadness and happiness, fear and courage. There’s not many of those who can paint a dream, a silence, and even the taste and smell of fruits. If one can do all of it, finally one need to know how to make the text and illustration compliment each other, how to make the suspense rise like in a theatre, to make everything in it’s own time and in good proportion.