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“The Three Astronauts” #1, watercolor
and collage, 27 x 21 cm, 1988.

“The Three Astronauts” #2, watercolor
and collage, 27 x 21 cm, 1988.

“The Three Astronauts” #3, watercolor
and collage, 27 x 21 cm, 1988.


by Judith Hoffberg

(Italian Cultural Institute, West Los Angeles) A friendship of more than 40 years lies at the heart of Modern Fables. Umberto Eco, novelist and professor of semiotics and philosophy of literature, combines his writing for "children" with the painter, Eugenio Carmi, best known for his vigorous discipline of forms and lines. But in this case, Carmi’s watercolor and collage works create a surreal visual language in order to illustrate Eco's tales. These collages are the originals from which the books were printed. The English edition sadly is now out of print; the Italian version is still available.

In this case, The Bomb and the General tells the tale of those "ogres" who have set about to invent war and destruction. The atoms, protagonists of the tale, are tiny playful circles done in soft tones, while the "general" is a brushy dark shape oddly adorned with gold braid. Interspersed are Carmi's delightful collages using lace or handkerchiefs, just the right materials to make the images playful and magical. This quiet tirade against war and militarism is a message for all ages.

In The Three Astronauts, we get a very timely story about a a voyage to Mars, a circle with a cluster of shapes suggesting an aerial view of that planet. There are wonderful symbols for the American, Chinese and Russian cosmonauts along for the ride, evolving into a message for cooperation. Carmi's use of fluid colors evolving into dreamscapes enhance and illuminate the story so well crafted by Eco. Friendship flowers into fairy tales for both children and adults. A must see for booklovers, book artists, semiotic seekers, and for that matter everyone else too!