The ‘Book Eating Boy’ and his incredible creator, Oliver Jeffers

An illustration from "Once Upon an Alphabet" is among the 80 works of art from Oliver Jeffers on exhibit at the High Museum of Art. Photo: Steve Butman

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An illustration from "Once Upon an Alphabet" is among the 80 works of art from Oliver Jeffers on exhibit at the High Museum of Art. Photo: Steve Butman

There’s an exhibit at the High and musical at the Alliance from the prolific Irish artist.

The artist, writer and children’s book illustrator Oliver Jeffers sees the world from unusual perspectives.

He empathizes with crayons. He understands the temptation of a tasty book.

On a recent early summer day he was at a Boston gallery, installing a solo show of paintings that turn the cosmos into bouquets of flowers.

He had just returned from Ireland, where he had created a sculptural model of the solar system that was nine kilometers long. That was the smallest he could make the installation, at a scale of 415 million to one, such that the smallest heavenly bodies would still be visible. The sun, made of silicone and powdered steel, was three meters in diameter; the moon was the size of a match head.

The idea was to give visitors a sense of the size of things. This is an overarching goal for Jeffers, 44, who tries to introduce his audience to vantage points that they may have never considered.

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"The Incredible Book Eating Boy," a popular book from children's author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, will become a musical production at the Alliance Theatre. Photo: Steve Butman

Credit: Steve Butman

"The Incredible Book Eating Boy," a popular book from children's author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, will become a musical production at the Alliance Theatre. Photo: Steve Butman

Credit: Steve Butman

Combined ShapeCaption
"The Incredible Book Eating Boy," a popular book from children's author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, will become a musical production at the Alliance Theatre. Photo: Steve Butman

Credit: Steve Butman

Credit: Steve Butman

One can enjoy Jeffers’ point of view in a new exhibit at the High Museum of Art, “Oliver Jeffers: 15 Years of Picturing Books,” on display through Aug. 7.

The exhibit includes more than 80 original drawings, sketches and illustrations, drawn from 16 of Jeffers’ picture books spanning his career, including the New York Times bestseller “The Day the Crayons Quit” as well as “The Incredible Book Eating Boy,” “A Child of Books” and “Once Upon an Alphabet.”

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Oliver Jeffers is a prolific writer and illustrator of children's books. An exhibit looking at 15 years of his work is on display at the High Museum of Art. Photo: High Museum

Credit: High Museum

Oliver Jeffers is a prolific writer and illustrator of children's books. An exhibit looking at 15 years of his work is on display at the High Museum of Art. Photo: High Museum

Credit: High Museum

Combined ShapeCaption
Oliver Jeffers is a prolific writer and illustrator of children's books. An exhibit looking at 15 years of his work is on display at the High Museum of Art. Photo: High Museum

Credit: High Museum

Credit: High Museum

Jeffers has a double life, creating fine art and children’s art, but Melissa Katzin, curator of the show at the High, said the two worlds are woven together.

The High’s exhibit is “showing children and people of all ages that there’s so much value in picture books and the stories within them,” said Katzin. “The literature and visuals are art in themselves, and should be judged and valued as any painting or sculpture we have.”

This show, organized by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas, is the eighth in a series of exhibits at the High devoted to children’s books. Previous shows have focused on Jerry Pinkney, Eric Carle, Maira Kalman and Mo Willems, among others. “Our children’s book exhibits are unique,” said Katzin. “We are a major museum that’s dedicated to having exhibits specifically on picture books.”

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Illustrator Oliver Jeffers teamed up with author Drew Daywalt on a series of books that imagine the trials and tribulations of crayons. Photo: Steve Butman

Credit: Steve Butman

Illustrator Oliver Jeffers teamed up with author Drew Daywalt on a series of books that imagine the trials and tribulations of crayons. Photo: Steve Butman

Credit: Steve Butman

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Illustrator Oliver Jeffers teamed up with author Drew Daywalt on a series of books that imagine the trials and tribulations of crayons. Photo: Steve Butman

Credit: Steve Butman

Credit: Steve Butman

This is also the sixth exhibit that has involved a collaboration with the Alliance Theatre, which will present an original musical based on Jeffers’ book, “The Incredible Book Eating Boy,” beginning July 13.

The story is about Henry, a boy who devours books, sometimes in one bite. The adaptation was written by New Yorker Madhuri Shekar; it’s the fourth time she’s worked with the Alliance in a children’s theater production.

As to how the Alliance will have child actor Alexander Chen swallow whole libraries, “That’s not my problem,” said Shekar. “I write impossible stage directions into the play and say ‘OK, figure it out,’ and they’re figuring out how to do all this incredible stage magic. I’ll be excited to see it.”

Jeffers said he has a hands-off policy when his books become plays. “Theater is not a word I understand, or know, or claim to have any authority on whatsoever,” he said. “I just select the partners with a degree of care, and trust whoever it is will do a good job, and leave them to it.”

This is probably a wise policy since in addition to the solar system installation, the solo show of paintings at the Praise Shadows Gallery, the High exhibit and a residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (heralded with a 36-foot mural of his painting “Universes” on the museum’s exterior) he’s published four books since December.

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A 36-foot mural on the exterior of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston announces the residency of children's book author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers. Photo: Oliver Jeffers

Credit: Oliver Jeffers

A 36-foot mural on the exterior of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston announces the residency of children's book author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers. Photo: Oliver Jeffers

Credit: Oliver Jeffers

Combined ShapeCaption
A 36-foot mural on the exterior of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston announces the residency of children's book author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers. Photo: Oliver Jeffers

Credit: Oliver Jeffers

Credit: Oliver Jeffers

His newest book, “Meanwhile Back on Earth,” due in October, was inspired by a conversation with his son who asked how long it would take to drive to each of the planets.

It would take about 78 years to drive to Mars, Jeffers calculated, which made him review what was happening 78 years ago, when the entire planet was embroiled in a world war. This led to a discussion of conflict and history and the cosmic perspective.

Jeffers, who lives in New York, is a native of Northern Ireland, where, on the 100th anniversary of the Irish civil war, conflict and history are hot topics.

“I’ve been interested in explaining conflict, empathy and distance,” he said. “Living in New York, explaining the Northern Ireland conflict to strangers who neither knew nor cared, I’ve come to learn that I see a lot of what has happened in Irish politics from the ‘70s — I see it at play in the USA today. How things have become more polarized here.”

He sums up the conflict this way: “people would rather be right than be better.”

Jeffers said he was still in early stages of his residency at the Gardner Museum: “I will spend some time with collection,” he said, “and silence my brain long enough to let things in again.”


EVENT PREVIEW

“Oliver Jeffers: 15 Years of Picturing Books

Through Aug. 7. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4400, high.org.

“The Incredible Book Eating Boy”

July 13-Aug. 14. Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4600, alliancetheatre.org.