One of Lisbeth Zwerger's illustrations from <em>The Night Before Christmas</em>.

One of Lisbeth Zwerger's illustrations from The Night Before Christmas.

Storytellers: Children’s Book Illustrators.

At Westmont College’s Reynolds Gallery. Shows through December 13.

There has always been a rift between “serious” painters, on the one hand, and illustrators who design children’s books, on the other. After all, children’s books are banal reading material for kids who need to be distracted by inferior-quality oversize pictures in primary colors-or so the theory goes. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, as evidenced by the Reynolds Gallery’s current show, Storytellers: Children’s Book Illustrators. Artists C.F. Payne, Gregory Manchess, and Lisbeth Zwerger, all of whom curator Scott Anderson refers to as “giants in the industry,” dispel such myths with their collective talent.

C.F. Payne’s work could be described as an homage to Norman Rockwell, and in fact, Payne’s work frequently appears in Reader’s Digest. Like the iconic images of the famous Saturday Evening Post illustrator, Payne’s images are perfectly rendered snapshots of everyday life, but he uses mixed media in his playful studies of Americana.

His illustrations are featured in the popular kids’ book, The Remarkable Farkle McBride, written by John Lithgow. “In this show, kids can see the original work they’ve seen in books,” Payne said. “They can stick their nose right up to the canvas.”

Gregory Manchess has illustrated for publications such as National Geographic and the Atlantic Monthly. “Yeah, illustrators don’t get enough respect,” he said with a sigh when asked about the genre. Yet Manchess’s oil-on-linen paintings are beginning to be snapped up by international collectors. His paintings use bold colors and strokes to create nuances of light, and a sense of movement and pace. A fan of the outdoors, Manchess paints horses, polar bears, and other wildlife, giving his subjects a slightly masculine edge.

Lisbeth Zwerger has worked in Vienna, Austria, for almost 30 years, and she has won nearly every major award an illustrator can win. Her most recent book, The Night Before Christmas, was published this year. Zwerger grew up without a TV and, out of necessity, read a lot of books. According to the artist, her work allows people “the ability to drift away.” Her whimsical watercolors, with their sparse imagery and disproportionate use of the canvas, draw the viewer into an alluring world of color and light.

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