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New York artist Maira Kalman at the Jewish Museum

Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman Photo Credit: "Self-Portrait (With Pete)," 2004-5

You’ve probably seen Maira Kalman’s work. She’s done numerous New Yorker covers, illustrated a volume of Strunk and White’s seminal “The Elements of Style,” designed textiles for Isaac Mizrahi and much more.

But you also may have seen Kalman herself — the Greenwich Village resident is an avid walker and is constantly out and about.

You now have a chance to walk right up to her playful work at the Jewish Museum, which is celebrating her career with “Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World).”

Does living in New York influence your work? Definitely. The energy and the people and the street life — it’s constantly colliding and inspiring.

I’ve heard you’re a big walker. I am. I walk all over the city and encounter unimaginable riches.

Do you have a favorite walk? I live in the Village, so I walk all around the Village. But I walk through Central Park, all over the city, up Fifth Avenue, through the Met. That’s a big walk.

Your drawing seems very rooted in the real world. Is that related to the walking? I always say that you never have to make anything up, that everything splendid and amazing is just there to be seen. So I just take notes and I record what I see and photograph, and it ends up in my work.

Your work has a very narrative quality. I had wanted to be a writer, and when I decided that I didn’t like my writing anymore, I still understood that the drawings that I did would be narrative and I would be an illustrator, not an artist in that sense — that each painting really was addressing a very particular narrative that I was thinking about. And I liked that constraint; it made it grounded.

In your practice, you’re synthesizing a lot of information. What is your studio like? Is it chaotic, or more of a blank place? I have a pretty spare and neat, very organized studio space. And I have a lot of books as reference and a lot of files with photo reference, so I know that if I’m looking for a man in a plaid suit, I’ll know where to find that in the files.

Tell us about “New Yorkistan,” the iconic New Yorker cover that ran shortly after 9/11? That was in collaboration with Rick Meyerowitz. ... You have to have a sense of humor, especially about things that seem unimaginable. Because you can’t survive if you don’t have a sense of humor about coping, and we were making fun of New York and New Yorkers and all of these amazing names that we hadn’t heard before.


If you go

"Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World)" is at the Jewish Museum through July 31. 1109 Fifth Ave., at 92nd St., 212-423-3200, thejewishmuseum.org

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