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Wrapping the Coast in Art with Elisa Boxer and Susanna Chapman

Updated: Jul 3

Elisa Boxer and Susanna Chapman, the author and illustrator of Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom (Abrams Books for Young Readers), talk about memorializing the lives of two artists who did what everyone was telling them could not be done.


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About the book: Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom by Elisa Boxer; Illustrated by Susanna Chapman. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers.


Covered in Color is a vibrantly illustrated picture book biography about visionary artist Christo, encouraging creativity, perseverance, and appreciating the beauty all around us.


Christo (1935-2020) and Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009) were renowned for their large-scale, ambitious art installations that wrapped landmarks and swaths of land in fabric, including Berlin's Wrapped Reichstag, Paris's The Pont Neuf Wrapped, and concluding with New York City's The Gates in Central Park.


This lively biography from Emmy Award-winning journalist Elisa Boxer and illustrator Susanna Chapman chronicles Christo's humble childhood in Soviet-controlled Bulgaria--under a regime that suppressed individuality and creativity--to his international fame as a bold (and controversial) innovator in the art world. Christo discovered an early love of art and found a way to make a living out of his passion by wrapping bottles, cans, stacks of magazines, and even an air conditioner. When he met his wife, Jeanne-Claude, they moved to New York City as undocumented immigrants and became equal partners in both life and work--he the artist and she the dealmaker.


Together, Christo and Jeanne-Claude made elaborate, visually stunning installations that transformed public spaces around the world, all free to the public. Christo never explained why he felt compelled to wrap things in fabric--rather, his work celebrated individual interpretation and the simple joy of seeing something familiar in a new way. And though each work was temporary, their awe-inspiring designs, uniting nature with the manmade, stayed with viewers long afterward. Covered in Color inspires readers to appreciate the beauty around us, however fleeting, and to push the boundaries of possibility.



INTRO


Matthew: Welcome back to the Children’s Book Podcast, where we dive deep into the world of creativity, storytelling, and the magic behind the art of creating books for children. 


I’m your host, Matthew Winner. Teacher. Librarian. Writer. Fan of kids. 


Today we have not one, but two incredible guests whose collaborative work has brought a vibrant and inspiring story to life.


Joining us today are Elisa Boxer and Susanna Chapman, the author and illustrator behind the fascinating book, Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom. This beautifully crafted book explores the extraordinary lives and artistic legacy of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the renowned artists famous for their large-scale environmental installations that captivated the world.


In this episode, we'll delve into the inspiration behind Covered in Color, the unique creative process that Elisa and Susanna employed, and the powerful message of freedom and expression that Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work embodies. Whether you're an art enthusiast, a budding illustrator, or simply curious about the stories behind iconic art, this is a conversation you won't want to miss.


So, without further ado, let’s welcome Elisa Boxer and Susanna Chapman to the show!



INTERVIEW


Elisa: I'm Elisa Boxer. I live in Maine and I love writing books for kids. I'm the author of Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom.


Susanna: Hi, I'm Susanna Chapman and I live in Nashville, Tennessee with my spouse and two cats. And I am the illustrator of Covered in Color, written by Elisa Boxer. 


Matthew: Well, I love that we're covering so many different states today. That's not a bad thing. I'm down here in Baltimore. So Elisa, I want to ask you who were Christo and Jean-Claude and, and how has the world come to know them and their voices as artists over these past several decades?


And I say it that way really to help, to help ask you to help us approach them in whatever the best way is that we can.


Elisa: They were. incredible large scale artists. They wrapped everything from air conditioners to bottles, to magazines, to buildings, to entire coastlines in gorgeous fabric. And they really worked outside the box. Um, they colored outside the lines, so to speak. Everything was on a huge, massive scale. They worked with the environment.

All of their materials were recyclable. Um, it was always collaborative, so they did lots of studies. They got lots of buy in from the people who lived in these communities, uh, where their art was going to be. Um, and they, they really, As we say in the book, push the boundaries of what is possible. They did not take no for an answer.


They were determined. They were persistent. Um, they were incredibly creative and talented, but they were also really, really great role models, I believe, for, um, creativity that cannot and will not.


Matthew: Well said. Their, their work is so memorable and stunning. Um, yeah. And I almost want to use the word confrontational in a way that it's just, it's hard not to see it, not to notice. And that's such a wonderful thing. And the whimsy of covering things is just a, there's really something interesting there. Um, Susannah, I want to ask you, um, representing the artist, but then going beyond that.


Do all artists create with the same purpose or goal in mind? Like, are we all supposed to feel moved by art or, or, um, is art for everybody or, or, or is something wrong with me if I don't connect with art? Is there a wrong response? If I understand the art differently than maybe the artist intended, really, I am asking you that bigger picture of like, how do we interact with art? And is there a right or wrong way? I assume sometimes there is a way I'm meant to feel, but maybe sometimes there's not. 


Susanna: So beautifully asked. What a beautiful bunch of questions. And your question even makes me think about how art, making art, And responding to art is a very special way of speaking.


And so in the same way that you asked that question, it makes me think, are words just for one purpose? Like, when we say words, is there one thing that we're trying to say? Uh, it's a very similar kind of thing, because it's communi art is communication, and I'd say for if I can imagine, how many things can I say with words?


I think with art, I would say it's even many times more. Um, although art can be words. But in the Christo and Jeanne-Claude instance, I'd say that part of the reason that their art is so challenging, um, and as you said, confrontational, is sometimes they're asking many questions at once. Sometimes they're stating many, many things at once.


And even to me, I'd say, I sometimes feel like I think I, I might not be understanding this, which is something I feel when I look at a lot of different kinds of art. And I'd say, that's not, that's not a wrong way to respond to art. I'd say when we do feel that way, we can, we can ask questions and sometimes that'll help us to understand more.


And I think. The beauty of how Elisa told the story is she gives a lot of background. Uh, she started the story really going to the beginning of Christo's life. And that, uh, is going to help us think a lot more thoughts when we see a big orange flag. That's in Central Park or, or even 7, 000 big orange flags in Central Park.


That's like, I could think, I don't know what that means. And I'm really stunned by this. And even a little uncomfortable that I'm having, that I'm having to think about almost a marathon length of enormous orange flags. And I think also, oh man, this question you asked is so huge that I'm. I am now saying so many words, but I, uh, I, I'm so overwhelmed by, by their art.


One, another thing I wanted to say is that I, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, when they've been asked, why do you do this? There was, I saw one documentary where they said, or Christo said, we only make it because Jeanne-Claude and I want to see it. That's it. That's the only reason why. And he said it in a very, like he was shouting it at a room of kids.


And I just think there's so much in there. And he's not afraid of that. That's a really wild thing to say.


Matthew: I love that so much. And I'm like connecting on it. And it's really weird. I'm in this, um, kids podcast collective called, called Kids Listen. And someone in there was asking, how do you keep motivated? How do you keep going? And I told them, I'm not making a podcast to grow. I'm making it to make friends and be connected.


And so in a way that I wasn't expecting to, I'm like really. Resonating with Christo here of, I'm making a thing. Cause I want to have that in the world. I'm not, I don't, in that way, it's not about how people react to it. It's more being able to see it in front of me. I don't know that that's exactly what he had in mind, but just an unexpected connection that is just.


I thought I would just be vulnerable and share out of my mouth right now. Oh yeah.


Beautiful. 


Susanna: Cause your, your podcasts are your art. 


Matthew: I mean, I think that, yeah, the way that we use words to help us understand, I think also could help bring other people in. And, and that is, I think, absolutely, uh, a means of art and expression.


Elisa: It's sort of like writing the books that that we need, needed as kids. 


Matthew: It is. I mean, I think 


Elisa: anytime you, yeah, you create what maybe you want or what you needed, it can't help but help other people. It 


Matthew: can't help but help. I love that it can't help but help. Uh, Alyse, I wanted to ask you about what brought you into this book.


If there was a moment or an idea or an event that inspired you to write Covered in Color, I wasn't sure. I was aware of two from, I did a lot of research after this, a lot of looking at photos. It was amazing. I think I need to get a book out of the library, um, on their work. But I, I recognize two works of, of Cristo and Jeanne-Claude.


I wonder what. inspired you to write this story? What brought you in, whatever that might've been? 


Elisa: I have long been fascinated by their artwork. Um, you know, like everyone else, I, I'm mesmerized by it. Um, it was not until I began looking into their background that I realized I needed to write this book. So Christo grew up under the Nazis and then under the communists, so his entire childhood was marked by this really severe suppression.

constriction. It was very confining. He could never read what he wanted to read. He could never do the things that he wanted to do. He could never make art in the way that his soul was calling for him to make art. So that struck me as so fascinating that here was this, this child who grew up so confined and he could easily have perpetuated that trauma.


Um, it reminds me of, there's this, this story of when baby elephants are in captivity and they're chained to a stake and they can't move and then they grow up and they could easily bust loose. Um, but they're so used to being chained and can find that they don't move. And I thought of that, several times in writing this book because Christo could easily have stayed confined and stayed suppressed and yet he grew up to create these massive, way outside the box, huge scale works that embody creativity.


So when I realized that, um, when I, when I realized that, that just complete contradiction, that complete paradox, it struck me as so beautiful and what a wonderful lesson. for children, for anyone, for any of us, actually, that we don't have to be confined or defined by what happened. We can, we can reverse that.


We can 180 that. Um, and, and he and Jeanne-Claude made magic together. It was almost like they, they completely defied. The past and created this magnificent future that we are now all in awe of. 


Matthew: I mean, it's incredible. And I do, I do think I thought a lot about you, Susanna, throughout reading this, cause I thought this, I don't, I don't, I don't, I haven't been an illustrator, I don't know the experience, but for me, the feeling of representing through art, somebody else's art. I was like, Oh, that seems incredibly intimidating to me. It'd be like me making a podcast about somebody else's podcast. I don't think I even want to touch that. Although I recognize that. In so many ways, there's so many echoes of the people that I admire through the work that I do.


I'm sure there's like Ira Glass and Jad Abumrad and everything in me that just comes out. And so the way that you have expressed this art is your own voice. and also influence. But I wonder for you, what ideas or inspiration you use to approach, uh, your treatment in Covered in Color? Because you do, you've made such beautiful compositions that are not just like, let me draw the photo that I found.


Not that you would do that, but you know what I mean. But so it was, it was additive though, as I was looking at whatever the different pieces were, I was like, Oh, and I have this illustration that gives me another vantage point of it. It was just a really, it was a really wonderful thing that you, that you did.


Susanna: Well, thank you. I, there is one point on that that does make people laugh that you might laugh out. The kids usually laugh about this. It is that, uh, Okay, so the work that Christo and Jeanne-Claude made, they did make for people to enjoy, you know, like, they weren't making them for a museum, they didn't even receive grants, like, no one ever approved anything, they just did exactly what they wanted and they wanted people They wanted the judge to be the audience.


They wanted it to be us. And that's so beautiful. And so when they made their art in real time, people were very welcome to just make art and respond however they wanted to. But then there's a second piece of that, which is that the documentation that exists of these art pieces. that we can now reference now, are often made by Christo and Jeanne-Claude to fund their art.


And those documentations, which are photos, drawings, things that you see, those are copyrighted. So when I start depicting the art for the book, I have to make sure that It is at least 30 percent different than the copyrighted pieces that are available.


Isn't that wild? And then just put a number like 30%, not 29%. I don't know. That's sort of a back and forth through, actually through their, throughout the sketch stage that I would do with Abrams, their publisher, that they're, they have lawyers who are approving, yes, this, this looks like, we can see what you referenced.


what was available to you to reference. And we can confirm that this is either from a different view that you've kind of made up in your head, or it's just a different interpretation and it's not copying a depiction that already exists, that is copyright. 


Matthew: I love that you're sharing that with our readers too, because I think.

I think that that's not something we always think about is how close can it be? Even if you're doing it with your own hand, can I, can I still, it doesn't really, it's just a really interesting concept that I think had no one said something about it, we wouldn't have even, it wouldn't cross my mind that that would have been, of course, a photograph of it maybe wouldn't have been copyrighted, unless it was done by an organization that owns the photograph. Yeah.


But, but the rep, I've seen Christo with, there are many, many photos of him with, with, with his art of the, the drawing or painting representation of the piece. That's so interesting, but it, yeah, that's wild. 


Susanna: Anyway, that's wild.


But with the art, what I get to see from the captures, I'm, I'm thinking right now of the Wrapped Coast, the Australian one that's so striking that it is stunning to be able to look at the photos of it and I feel like I'm, it's endlessly inspiring just thinking about how would the light hit this area and they're right next to the ocean and then there are these tiny People standing on it.


It's a whole coast just wrapped like a present. It's it's really wild. Yeah. So it's endlessly inspiring and then a little bit limited on how I can interpret how I'm inspired by it. 


Matthew: I hear that. The, I'll just say briefly that the two that are so striking to me as well are the, the Canyon one that it looks like kind of an upside down umbrella in the Canyon.


Susanna: Oh 


Matthew: my gosh, that in the, there's a one I think called Floating Pier that connects an island, a privately owned island to, Oh my word, just, I mean, piece after piece, I'm saying like, I need to get. a book to really sit with and not just be browsing on Google. That wasn't, that wasn't serving. All I could enlarge it on my monitor.


I really just want to sit with it and be able to read captions and go from one to the other. So you really, you both really brought a really cool world, uh, to me, as well as to our readers. I would love to ask you to share. part of Covered in Color with us, whether it's like a favorite page or the beginning or a what, whatever, truly, whatever you feel inspired to share or that you might share when you meet new readers.

I'd love for, for you to do that if you don't mind. Lisa, do you want to start? 


Elisa: So I just, every time I open the book, I am in awe of Susanna's work. I mean, did she not do the most genius? with every page. If I had to pick, I would pick Lisa. I'll smile too big. No, I truly, I mean, even in rereading this book before this podcast, I spotted new things and it's such a delight.


Sometimes my own books. So this time I didn't, I just, I was so mesmerized by every single one. And I'll tell you, I mean, I really do. I find something new to appreciate every time I look at it. So if I had to pick a favorite, I would pick the Wrapped Coast of Australia spread. And it's as much to do with the message behind the art as the art itself.


So right after Christo and Jeanne-Claude had wrapped their first building, they got this idea in their head, they wanted to wrap an entire coast, um, the shore, And everyone told him they were crazy. It cannot be done. The quote was, “Everyone said a coast cannot be wrapped.” And then you flip the page and voila, there is an entire wrapped post in all of its glory.


And I love the art so much, but I also love the fact that they just went ahead and did what everyone was telling them could not be done.


Matthew: I love that. That's such a great selection. Susana, what, what would you like to share? 


Susanna: Oh, well, I, I think I will. The part that made me actually have a cry was the, is the last thread where Elisa says with so few words. the philosophy of Christo and Jeanne-Claude so succinctly, their enormousness. And so, and so is it all right if I read those words?


So this is at the end of the story… 


Like all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's work. The gates would soon be gone. They compared the fleeting nature of their work to rainbows and other temporary wonders.

These are valued because we know that they will not last, but their art does last in all the ways that matter.” 


And the reason that makes me so emotional, I think is because I'm so used to, as someone who really loves art, really thinking that art that's in a museum is the kind of art that's, That is really important or something that someone has paid someone to do, like giving them a lot of money to do, that's really important art.


And Christo and Jeanne-Claude were not interested in us. They, that, and I think I just, it speaks to human life. It speaks to, um, conversations you have with someone that only lasts as long as you're both there breathing the same air. The hugest things are not things that are going to stay in one place for a long time.


The way, the way that she said it, it really, really struck me. 


Matthew: It reminds me so much that feeling of, of the work and impression that Amy Krauss Rosenthal left on me of, let's all gather at this place, this moment. She did so much of those things. I'll be the one holding the yellow umbrella where it's just, we're just, we Collectively are gonna experience it.


And because we've done it together, it, it's, it's mattered, but it doesn't need to be cataloged. It's so beautiful. I also love, I should share with you, one of my favorite spreads that I kept coming back to over and over, uh, was this one. And I love it so much because so much of was work. We're at work, we're at work, we're at work, we see their backs, and we finally see them come up for air and we see their faces when it's that.


Yes, after 25, whatever it was, years. They get to do it. I thought that was such a clever, uh, turn of the camera to do that. Um, exceptional work, both of you. Really very thoughtful work. Uh, really carefully chosen words, Elisa. Really. It was, it was very powerful. Uh, I would like you, uh, to think about what words you would like to share with kids.


These do not need to be, I was going to be like a whole segue and be like, speaking of carefully selected words. Now I just want you to speak from your heart as you've been doing. Um, but I'll say it this way as, as my closing to each of you, Elisa, I'll see a library full of children very soon. Is there a message I can bring to them from you?


Elisa: Please wrap the coast. That is what I would say to them. Wrap the whole darn coast. If someone is telling you you cannot do something, you just tell them to step aside and show them how to do it. 


She is an artist. She's an artist with words, I tell you. She's done it again. 


Matthew: Or maybe 


Elisa: just defiant. Maybe just a rabble rouser.

I don't know. 


Matthew: Susanna? Is there a message that I could share from you? 


Susanna: Well, this is, this is a message that I would say is only for people who like surprises. Who like good surprises. So, and no one else has to listen. If you don't, you can close your ears. 


But if you like good surprises, if there is something, a piece of art that you think is boring, or even if it's something you drew that you think is boring, or if it's an art you made that you think is bad, I would say either ask yourself some questions or wait a little bit. And you might find that there's just a surprise that it can surprise you. And the same applies to  if there's a person who you think is boring, that they might just surprise you. If you ask a little question. 


OUTRO


Matthew: Thank you to Elisa Boxer and Susanna Chapman for joining me on The Children’s Book Podcast. 


You can pick up your own copy of Covered in Color: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Fabrics of Freedom (Abrams Books for Young Readers) wherever books are found. Consider supporting independent bookstores by shopping through Bookshop.org. You can also use my affiliate link by clicking on the book’s name in our show notes.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/). 


Our music is by Podington Bear. 


Podcast hosting by Libsyn. 


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at matthewcwinner.com or by clicking the link in the show notes.


And on that note…


Be well. And read on.



End Of Episode

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