A cartoonist’s smiling world

French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempe never trained at an art school but was determined to become an artist from an early age. He was only 20 when he received an award for young talents. This was in the early 1950s, when Sempe created «Nicolas,» his famous character which later became the protagonist of the series «Le Petit Nicolas,» with illustrations by Sempe and texts by Rene Goscinny. International acclaim soon followed, making Sempe, who is now 74, one of the most reputable cartoonists of our times. The inimitable, elegant style of his work comes through the exquisite drawings that are presented at the Nees Morfes gallery. One of the unique aspects of Sempe’s work is that in it everybody will find something to relate to. His cartoons often depict nothing more than a snapshot from an ordinary, everyday life. Yet, the subtleties of meaning that come through are so rich that the viewer will find himself riveted by each drawing. An old lady standing with her three suitcases in the train station of a provincial town, a man in front of a lone corner Parisian building, a bearded man looking out at the sea from the top of a hill: These are simple scenes to which Sempe has injected a sense of sophisticated humor, subtle irony and tender sweetness. Comparable to Jacques Tati’s films, Sempe’s work brings out the subtleties in just about everything around us and captures the essence of human characters and dispositions with just a few sketch lines. His drawings rarely have captions but when they do, they are as spare and sophisticated as his illustrations. In one of the drawings, two tiny figures are depicted against the background of a towering, exhibition hall. The woman bends over the seated man who apparently is one of the museum’s guards. «J’aime beaucoup ce que vous faites» (I like very much what you do) is the caption. The image is filled with irony. Sempe sympathizes with his lonely figures yet also ridicules them for their vanity and the bourgeois want for order in which they are often trapped. Bourgeois values are often attacked in his drawings. But Sempe’s commentary on political and social reality is always filtered through the most ordinary, mundane aspects of life. That’s partly what makes his drawings filled with such truth, grace and enchantment. Jean-Jacques Sempe at the Nees Morfes gallery (9A Valaoritou, tel 210.361.61.65) through October 14.

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