Un Air de Paris
Jean Jacques Sempe
Exhibition Gallery, Hong Kong Central Library
Most people who read The New Yorker will recognise Jean Jacques Sempe's satirical drawings. The French cartoonist has graced more than 70 of the magazine's covers since 1978. With a humorous outlook on modern society and ordinary characters, he invites viewers into his charming, sometimes absurd, intimate, but always funny, world of musicians, office workers, cyclists, ballet dancers and city life.
Un Air de Paris is a selection of 100 large illustrations spanning more than three decades, from some of the artist's most famous collections such as The Musicians (1979), Big Dreams (1997) and A Bit of Paris (2001). It's in Hong Kong as part of Le French May festival.
About a dozen works on display are original covers for The New Yorker. For the August 14, 1978, cover, a balding office worker is perched at the window of an office tower (left). Dressed in a suit, the man stares blankly through round glasses up at the sky. What makes this image out of the ordinary is that, from the waist down, the man is a bird. Is Sempe saying that we want to escape from our caged 'office' life and fly away? Or is he suggesting that we should look to the heavens for more meaning in life?
As part of the exhibition, there's a video (in French) featuring Sempe - cigarette in hand - talking about his life's work. It might be more accessible if there weren't only Chinese subtitles.
Some of Sempe's works are loaded with detail, intricate, complex and splashed with colour: a store's interior is so crammed with bicycles of all shapes and styles that a mouse would have difficulty squeezing through. In other illustrations, he uses thin black lines to comment on individuality in urban life. From the Highs and Lows collection (1970), gigantic buildings tower above hundreds of men and women who are filing into them like busy ants. A caption from one of the 'ants' says: 'You'll see this guy is really a unique individual.'
These creations - whether complex or simple, with words or without, in black-and-white or colour - translate into an intriguing universe that is uniquely Sempe.
Daily, 10am-8pm, 66 Causeway Rd, Causeway Bay, free. Inquiries: 3150 1234. Ends May 30