I absolutely love Maira Kalman’s artwork. Colorful and sweet with an endearing naivete, her work is like a cotton-candy version of a better life but with melancholic undertones. I love it and I want to live in it. So when I heard Kalman had illustrated one of my favorite books, Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, I was thrilled. This is the crossover event of 2020 as far as I’m concerned.
The text of Stein’s book is still the text of Stein's book. First published in 1933, it is ostensibly the memoir of Alice B. Toklas, Stein’s life partner. Of course Stein actually wrote it, and it is as much a biography of her as it is a biography of Toklas. It is also rich with cameos: anyone who's anyone in the international arts community of Paris in the early 20th century makes an appearance, and Stein's withering assessments of some of them are laugh out loud funny.
Mining Stein's nearly 90 year old text, Maira Kalman does a tremendous job of using her illustrations to bring out the nuances of Stein’s words. Pulling unexpected quotes and centering whole new worlds around them, Kalman uses her paintbrush, her sensitive eye, and an unmistakable love for the subject matter to bring us beautiful artwork that truly redraws Gertrude and Alice and their world for 2020, adding another layer of meaning and enjoyment to Stein's classic.
If you are a fan of Maira Kalman, Gertrude Stein, or 20th century art history, don’t sleep on this one! In the meantime, sample this funny video Kalman made of herself as Alice B. Toklas with quotes from the book.