Tell us about yourself.
My name is Peter Sis. I consider myself an artist but I am usually introduced as an illustrator or a children’s book illustrator. The next question is, “What age group are your books for?” and I do not know how to answer that. I grew up in Prague. My father was a film director and my Mom was an artist. I was in art school in late 1960’s and lots of political things were happening in the background. We were completely not free and the government saw some art to be decadent. It was a terrible time, so many things were banned, including rock and roll. It became very tempting. I starting making animated films because it gave me a chance to tell a story in a different way. In my animated film I have messages that are anti system, so hidden, if I look now I can’t even find them. The symbolism was so dangerous, it taught me to think in layers. I won the Berlin Film Festival in 1980 and eventually was able to get a 3 month visa to United States. This project was a life opportunity but it didn’t work out so I had to try to accomplish something before I tried to go back, the communist government could put me in big trouble. I got into the field of children’s books accidentally and never left. Maurice Sendak helped me. At first I was lucky to get published at all knowing little about American childhood, then I got lucky having two children of my own who gave me inspiration and ideas for about 14 years.
When you got to NY, How did it begin for you?
I felt like I needed to create a style that nobody else had to be sure I’d be getting more and more work. I used tiny little dots which ended up taking forever. But I kept getting work, lots of editorial for magazines and newspapers like the NY Times, Time magazine, The Atlantic and many more. I had no glasses then, that I can’t understand. I also was illustrating children’s books that other people wrote. At first I was lucky to be published at all knowing little about American childhood.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration is my immigration experience. My books are mostly about leaving home. I thought this was a unique experience, to realize everyone leaves home one way or another. I am unique in my field because I was born in Czechoslovakia which doesn’t exist anymore. A blessing for me was when I had children. My inspiration came from what I was thinking they were dreaming about.
How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process is tedious. I somehow imagine that the more detail I put in the more loved I will be. I also doodle. I have books where I layout my ideas. I can explain the whole idea this way.
How do you get out of your creative blocks?
It is more and more difficult to unblock myself. Perhaps because of the changing landscape of culture, imagination and inspiration. How important is art to all of us? How important are books? Paintings? Beauty? is it just a business model of heart?
If you could visit the studio of any artist or designer, who would it be?
I almost had a chance to visit the the studio of Saul Steinberg, my hero, when I met him in a Manhattan bookstore. But he was in such a bad mood that I did not dare take a chance.
Do you have any advice for artists who are just starting out?
Follow the dream. I did a book of the same name- maybe you can still find it on eBay.
What are your main goals for 2014?
My main goal right now is sun, green grass and blue sky.
Has any advice influenced you?
There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I would like to hold a beautiful book printed on delightful paper while visiting a spectacular independent bookstore full of curious customers.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I have a new book called The Pilot and the Little Prince, that will be published in May. It is about the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who became who he was through many different coincidences.
Do you have any upcoming shows?
I will have a talk celebrating my new book, “The Pilot and the Little Prince” at the Morgan Library in Manhattan on April 22nd and an exhibition about my 30 years in America at the Bohemian National Hall on 73rd Street between 1st and 2nd ave, from May 7th. There is a Czech restaurant downstairs called Hopsoda with the best beer in Manhattan.
Thank you so much Peter, It was a pleasure to speak to you!