In the Garden of Anita Jeram - Biographic and artistic notes
Anita Jeram is best known as the illustrator of the picture book ‘Guess How Much I Love You’. Regarded as a modern classic, around 30 million copies have been produced. Written by Sam McBratney, and published by Walker Books in 1994, it rapidly became a publishing phenomenon, and has gone on to generate sequels, animated series, and a merchandising brand. An iconic painting from the book was selected for ‘The Great Exhibition of the North’ in 2018.
She has written and/or illustrated over 15 picture books for children since first published in 1991, often working with authors such as Dick King-Smith and Amy Hest. At the same time, Anita has enjoyed a long collaboration with ‘Two Bad Mice’, an art card publisher, which has seen her work reaching an altogether more ‘grown-up’ mass audience, appreciative of her wry wit and humour. Her independent artwork and designs have been reproduced by numerous companies across products ranging from ceramics, figurines, and fabrics, to stationary, giftware, serviettes, and limited edition prints, so it’s quite possible that you already have a little piece of Anita’s art in your home, but don’t realise it.
A third string to Anita’s creative life is the work she makes totally for her own self-expression and entertainment. Ever restless and curious she draws, paints, embroiders, prints, sews, cuts, constructs, embellishes, decorates, and models, in a range of media. Much of her best work is produced spontaneously and rapidly. With Anita it is often the case that ‘less is more’; that the less her concern with technical gloss, the more the pure art of it shines through.
At school, in 1970’s Portsmouth, she was often reprimanded over the exuberant doodled covers of her exercise books, but those same covers share a clear identity with artwork produced during her time at Manchester Polytechnic in the 80’s, with the illustrations for ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ in the 90’s, and indeed, with today’s projects. Anita has always had two gifts; her firm mastery of line, and, an intuitive sense of decorative design. Not many can match her ability to capture simultaneously the complexities of form, movement, character, and emotion, with so few marks on the paper.
Anita has always felt more comfortable with animals than people. She uses animals as surrogates for illuminating human emotions, interactions, and psychology in a way that has clearly struck a chord, whether through the medium of children’s book illustration, greetings cards, or other work. The anthropomorphic characters lean towards cartoon-like depictions, while at the opposite end of the spectrum, her naturalistic portrayals of animals are founded upon keen observation of her subjects, and deep empathy with them. Nevertheless, they depict animalistic states with which we are profoundly familiar; the peaceful bliss of sleep, the joy of uninhibited motion.
Each image or creation gives us a tiny glimpse of Anita’s inner refuge; her idealised alternative universe of emotion, colour, pattern and texture. It is the way she wants the world to be, and it serves as her respite from the harsher aspects of day to day life. It is escapist in the same way that a hidden garden is an escape from the city, and, just like making a garden, for Anita creating the work is therapeutic. To judge from the popularity of what she produces, many of us must also feel the need for a little respite from time to time.