Colorful visions from Brazil: Eric Carle Museum hosts first U.S. exhibit of Brazilian artist and children’s author Roger Mello

Artwork by Roger Mello for “Griso, The One and Only,” 2015.

Artwork by Roger Mello for “Griso, The One and Only,” 2015. Image courtesy Eric Carle Museum

Emily DeMartino and her daughter Lyra, 6, create drawings to add to “Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello” at the Eric Carle Museum. It’s the first U.S. exhibit for Mello, a Brazilian illustrator and children’s author.

Emily DeMartino and her daughter Lyra, 6, create drawings to add to “Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello” at the Eric Carle Museum. It’s the first U.S. exhibit for Mello, a Brazilian illustrator and children’s author. PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

Assistant curator Isabelle Ruiz Cano leads a tour of “Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello” at the Eric Carle Museum. It’s the first U.S. exhibit for Mello, a Brazilian illustrator and children’s author.

Assistant curator Isabelle Ruiz Cano leads a tour of “Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello” at the Eric Carle Museum. It’s the first U.S. exhibit for Mello, a Brazilian illustrator and children’s author. PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

An illustration by Roger Mello for the 1997 book “Cavalhadas de Pirenópolis.” The Brazilian artist uses materials including colored pencils, collage, and latex paint in his work.

An illustration by Roger Mello for the 1997 book “Cavalhadas de Pirenópolis.” The Brazilian artist uses materials including colored pencils, collage, and latex paint in his work. Image courtesy Eric Carle Museum

Artwork by Roger Mello for “Joāo by a Thread,” 2006

Artwork by Roger Mello for “Joāo by a Thread,” 2006 Image courtesy Eric Carle Museum

Illustration by Roger Mello for the 2001 book “Jardins.” The Brazilian artist was inspired in part by the work of Brazilian landscape architect Robert Burle Marx.

Illustration by Roger Mello for the 2001 book “Jardins.” The Brazilian artist was inspired in part by the work of Brazilian landscape architect Robert Burle Marx. Image courtesy Eric Carle Museum

An image from Mello’s book “Charcoal Boys,” which tackled the subject of child labor. 

An image from Mello’s book “Charcoal Boys,” which tackled the subject of child labor.  Image courtesy Eric Carle Museum

This early work by Roger Mello is from the 1996 book “Maria Teresa,” for which Mello made heavy use of colored pencils.

This early work by Roger Mello is from the 1996 book “Maria Teresa,” for which Mello made heavy use of colored pencils. Image courtesy Eric Carle Museum

Roger Mello is seen here at a German book fair in 2014, the year he became the first artist from Latin America to win the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in children’s literature.

Roger Mello is seen here at a German book fair in 2014, the year he became the first artist from Latin America to win the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in children’s literature. Photo by Albin Olson/Wikipedia

Emily DeMartino and her daughter Lyra, 6, check out some of the artwork in “Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello,” the new exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst.

Emily DeMartino and her daughter Lyra, 6, check out some of the artwork in “Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello,” the new exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst. PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

Jennifer Schantz, executive director of the Eric Carle Museum, welcomes visitors to a tour of “Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello,” the new exhibit at the Carle.

Jennifer Schantz, executive director of the Eric Carle Museum, welcomes visitors to a tour of “Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello,” the new exhibit at the Carle. PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2024 4:56 PM

Modified: 06-21-2024 11:10 AM


The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has displayed the work of dozens and dozens — or more likely hundreds — of illustrators and writers over the years, in solo exhibits and group shows.

Among them have been a fair number of artists from other countries, as well as those who were born elsewhere and immigrated to the United States.

But as Ellen Keiter, the Carle’s chief curator, notes, only two past exhibits have been solo shows devoted to the work of two specific foreign artists — until now.

The museum’s newest exhibit is centered on Roger Mello, a Brazilian illustrator and children’s author known for collaborating with artists from several other countries. And though he’s visited the U.S. to attend literacy discussions and academic forums on children’s literature, this is his first show in this country.

“Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello,” which runs through Jan. 5, features original art and other materials from 12 of Mello’s books and some not-yet-published titles, showcasing colorful work of intricate detail and the artist’s use of varied materials, from colored pencils to collage to latex paint.

“Roger says he likes to work with latex paint because he can find it anywhere in the world,” said Isabel Ruiz Cano, assistant curator of the Carle. “He travels a lot, for work and for pleasure, so that makes sense for him.”

Keiter says she’d wanted to host an exhibit on Mello ever since watching a video of an extended conversation he had in 2021 with Peter Sís, a Czech-born illustrator now in the U.S. whose work was featured at a solo exhibit at the Carle in 2019.

“We are thrilled to host the first exhibit [in the U.S.] for Roger,” said Keiter, who with Cano co-curated the show, though she gives Cano much of the credit: “Once we planned for this, Isabel just ran with it.”

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There’s another good reason to take a look at Mello’s work: In 2014, he became the first artist from Latin America to win the Hans Christian Andersen Award, perhaps the most prestigious honor in children’s literature.

Mello, born in 1965, has been working professionally since the 1990s, and his earlier work, such as the illustrations he did for the 1996 book “Mother Teresa,” relied heavily on the rich, layered use of colored pencils. 

Cano, who recently led a short tour of the exhibit, said Mello has been inspired in some cases by Brazilian folklore. “Mother Theresa,” for instance, is about fishermen in northeast Brazil who attach carrancas — scowling animal-like figureheads — to the front of their boats to ward off evil spirits.

Another earlier book, “Cavalhadas de Pirenopolis,” is based on a popular Brazilian festival in which people dress in costume to poke fun at the pomp and pageantry of Portuguese knights from the Middle Ages, who once fought with Muslim warriors for control of Portugal.

An image from that story depicts a somewhat sheepish looking fellow riding an elaborately decorated horse, and who has what looks like purple feathers sprouting from his helmet.

“Roger brings both a great sense of fun and color to so much of his work,” said Cano.

‘The theater of the page’

Mello, who Cano says has illustrated over 100 books for other writers and written and illustrated 22 of his own, offers more than that. Cano says he brings “a real sense of theatricality to his books.”

In fact, Mello is also a playwright, actor and sculptor whose experiences are reflected in his work in a variety of ways. For “Contradança,” a story about a dancer, monkey, and rhinoceros, he built small clay models of these characters — they’re part of the exhibit — that he photographed at varied angles against a mirrored backdrop to generate ideas for his illustrations.

The exhibit features other materials, like book dummies and accordion-style and fold-out books that showcase Mello’s artistic range, such as a story in which a fire begins and the following pages are constructed and colored in the shape of flames.

Cano says he also designs his artwork to scale by considering, right from the start, the size and format of a book’s printed page.

“Yet whatever he does,” she noted, “he brings this incredible amount of detail to his work.”

One particularly noted example is “Charcoal Boys,” a 2019 book that Mello wrote and illustrated about a young boy who works in Brazil’s harsh charcoal mines. The story is narrated by a wasp that follows the boy through the day and observes his hardships but also his strength and resilience.

“Charcoal Boys” was recognized in 2020 as an outstanding international work, both for its quiet condemnation of child labor and for its artwork: Bello painted plastic bags and other material to create highly textural collages, with a darker tinge than much of his work.

“It’s an allegorical story, and a pretty powerful one,” said Cano.

“Fuzuê!” (the word means “commotion” in English) also reflects Mello’s love of the natural world, she added, and some of his most colorful illustrations are of flora and fauna, like the riotous images of gardens he created for one book, “Jardins”; the art is inspired by the work of Robert Burle Marx, a noted Brazilian modernist landscape architect.

Mello, who has worked with writers and other artists in China and Korea, also collaborated with a noted Korean graphic designer and illustrator, Woohyon Kang, on a 2017 book, “Magma Boy,” a tale about the birth of a scenic island off the Korean peninsular.

Keiter says only a handful of Mello’s many books have been translated into English (though they’ve been translated into other languages). But she’s hoping the Carle exhibit will give him some more exposure in the U.S.

The museum will do its part by hosting a number of events related to the exhibit, including a visit by Mello in October, when the artist and author will be the guest speaker for the Carle’s annual Educators’ Night.

And for all the young artists out there: “Fuzuê! Invention & Imagination in the Art of Roger Mello” includes a DIY section for visitors to add their own creations to a “River and Waterways” display.

More information is available at carlemuseum.org

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.