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Find out about the
award-winning bestseller Dream

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Secrets of the Artists
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SHAUN TAN

Shaun Tan

Illustration from Dream

Perth, Australia

Acrylic, oil, and collage

A young woman forges a path up a mountain on what seems like a straightforward route, while hidden ahead are more complex choices (symbolized by the signpost before the summit). Her smiling face (eyes, nose, and mouth) is echoed in the landscape (path is the smile, outcrop on mountain is the nose, light sources are the eyes), showing that we are a part of the world and the world is a part of us. She carries a scroll in her hand, perhaps a map or diploma suggesting learning or growth, and a small flowering plant in her knapsack, ready to be planted in an appropriate place. The hopeful image of the birds foreshadows the Langston Hughes quotation on page 29 in Dream. The mountain's collage texture is made up of bits of maps, symbols, and text in different languages, suggesting culture, history, learning, and experience. A star is hidden in the mountain, toward the top.

In the distance on the left side is one of the ancient wonders of the world, the flaming beacon of the Lighthouse of Alexandria which guided ships to safe harbor in Egypt many centuries ago. On the other side is what many consider a modern wonder, Big Ben, which offers its own kind of guidance in a busy, clock-oriented world. These symbols of light and time remind us that even the smallest personal journey (the story text references psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs) lies within the greater narrative of human passage from past to present.

Mr. Tan is an Academy Award winner for his animated film The Lost Thing (2011). He received the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award for The Rabbits (John Marsden). He also wrote and illustrated The Red Tree, winner of a "Prix Octogones." He has also been named Best Artist at the World Fantasy Awards.

While in grade school, he became known as the "good drawer" which compensated for always being the shortest kid in every class. As a teenager, he began drawing and painting images for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines. He considered many careers, as he was also interested in literature, history, and science. But, ultimately, painting and drawing appealed to him most as a way to express himself and understand things around him. With every new project, he tries to do something different from what he's done before.

"Things seem impossible only because of a failure of imagination and patience, which are more important tools when facing a problem than simply having knowledge. What makes art and literature so interesting is that they present us with unusual things that encourage us to ask questions about what we think we know."


© SV Bosak, www.legacyproject.org

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