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  • Nikolaus HeidelbachIllustrator–Germany

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Nikolaus Heidelbach, born 1955 in Lahnstein, Germany, lives as a free-lance author and illustrator in Cologne. He is considered one of the most recognized yet unconventional artists in Germany. Heidelbach came into contact with art at an early age. He, however, never attended an art school but studied German philology, art history, and theater in Cologne and Berlin from 1976 to 1983. In 1980, he published his first book for adults, Bilderbogen (Pictorial Broadsheet). His first picturebook, Das Elefantentreffen oder 5 dicke Angeber (The Meeting of the Elephants or 5 fat Braggarts), appeared in 1982. Since then, he has published over fifty illustrated books for children and adults. In addition to picturebooks with his own texts, he has illustrated children's books (e. g., Der neue Pinocchio [The new Pinocchio] by Christine Nöstlinger), poems (e. g., by Josef Guggenmos), stories and fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers and H. C. Andersen, and has drawn about three hundred cover illustrations. His books have been awarded numerous prizes, and in 2000, he received the German Children's Literature Special Award for his complete work.

Nikolaus Heidelbach is known as a provocateur in the world of German picturebooks. As Dr. Maria Linsmann has put it in her portrait for Heidelbach's nomination for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, he is "an artist who does not offer easy reading matter to the readers of his books. His work evades being fit into classical categories and he has a clear preference for addressing themes that are considered taboo for children's and youth literature"—such as sexuality, death, or negative feelings like jealousy, aggression, loneliness, or fear. For Heidelbach, tackling even those topics means taking children seriously. In his work, he succeeds in an unforgettable way in depicting children's feelings and sensibilities. According to the jury statement for the German Children's Literature Special Award, one senses in all Heidelbach's picturebook stories "a great respect for a child's individuality and autonomy. Always at the center of his artistic work are individuals, who he portrays with psychological empathy and sympathy for their weaknesses."

For the artist, taking children seriously also means drawing for children and for adults without any qualitative differentiation. Heidelbach said, "That would be something new to me—a picture that a child gives up on." In his work, he has developed his own visual language and inimitable style, which Dr. Maria Linsmann describes as follows:

He offers children complex, subtle imagery—pictures that continue the narrative where the text ends, interpreting it, and expanding on it by adding new perspectives…. He enjoys toying with the stylistic devices of comicality and multilayer meaning. He exaggerates, he supplements, he expands the portrayals even into the surreal.… His images are full of allusions and references [to the old masters, the surrealists, and the great illustrators, such as Sempé, Ungerer, Loriot, and Edward Gorey].

Furthermore, Heidelbach is a precise observer, which enables him (in Linsmann's words) to create "[p] ictures that hold a striking nearness to the child's world, but in which, at the same time, a further essential element is added: the power of imagination!" [End Page 52]



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