French artist and writer Tomi Ungerer dies in his Cork home

Children’s author and illustrator provoked controversy with his erotic drawings in 60s and 70s

Award-winning and internationally renowned artist and writer Tomi Ungerer has died at his home in west Cork aged 87-years-old over the weekend.

Author Ungerer, who was born in Strasbourg, had published more than 140 books translated into 28 languages over his lifetime.

Ungerer, who settled on the Mizen Peninsula in west Cork in 1976, died on Friday. His death was confirmed by his daughter, Aria, who told The Washington Post that the cause of his death was unknown.

"He was in absolutely brilliant form in the past few days," she said, and was writing a collection of short stories "about his alter ego, Mr Malparti, " Ms Ungerer told the paper, who described the award winning satirist as "a puckish artist".

The youngest of four children, Jean-Thomas “Tomi” Ungerer was born in Strasbourg on November 28th, 1931, the son of an artist, engineer and designer of astronomical clocks who died when Tomi was just three-years-old.

His mother moved the family to Logelbach near the Alsatian city of Colmar. During the war years, Ungerer said he was forced to join the Hitler Youth and dig trenches for the German army but even then his artistic talent was evident, filling his notebooks with battlefield scenes.

Hugely imaginative, he was described by one of his teachers as “a wilfully perverse and subversive individualist”.

After failing his high school graduation exams and he made his way to New York - via a stint with a French camel cavalry regiment in Algeria - with "a trunk full of drawings and manuscripts".

Basing himself in New York, he found work as an illustrator for publications including the New York Times, Life and Harper's Bazaar, while creating posters for movies such as Stanley Kubrick's Dr Strangelove (1964) and briefly sharing an apartment with novelist Philip Roth.

Initially, he became best known for his children's books, including the illustrations for Jeff Brown's 1964 classic Flat Stanley, about a boy who is crushed flat by a bulletin board, slips inside envelopes to travel by mail, and restores himself to proper size with the aid of a bicycle pump.

Later in that 1960s, he devised a slogan for the New York State Lottery, "Expect the Unexpected" that echoed a saying by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus and was later used by the American alternative news and cultural publication, The Village Voice.

He was still writing children's fiction, which he illustrated with his vivid and imaginative drawings, when he began designing political posters that protested against segregation, the Vietnam War and working on erotic art that prompted condemnation from conservative forces.

It was his erotic drawings, particularly those in Fornicon a book of graphic depictions of sex that he published in 1969, that drew particularly condemnation especially given his reputation up until then as an illustrator of whimsical children books.

He later recalled being confronted by angry children's librarians at the American Library Association that year and when asked how he could depict such graphic sex, he replied: "If people didn't f**k, you wouldn't have any children, and without children you would be out of work."

The controversy led to Ungerer being effectively blacklisted in the United States but in Europe his popularity soared, particularly in Germany and France where he sold millions of book. In 2007 a museum opened to his life and work in Strasbourg.

His first two marriages ended in divorce and in 1972, he married Yvonne Wright.

Ungerer and and Ms Wright moved to west Cork in the mid-70s, setting up home in an isolated farmhouse at the end of the Mizen Peninsula overlooking the dramatically scenic Dunlough Bay.

He was the subject of a 2012 documentary Far Out Isn't Far Enough that took its title from a 1983 illustrated memoir that he wrote about his years living in Canada.

He explained the phase as an artistic desire to push further into the unknown.

In the film, he talks about death. “That’s what’s really fantastic about death, that’s why death has to be welcomed and when I die, I’ll find out what’s behind the far out. Maybe there’s nothing, but nothing is fantastic too because if you’re faced with nothing, you can fill it up with your mind.”

Ungerer, who is survived by his wife, Yvonne, daughters, Phoebe and Aria, and sons, Pascal and Lukas, will lie in repose at St Brendan's Church, the Square in Bantry, Co Cork on Tuesday from 12.30pm with a funeral service at 1pm followed by a private cremation service.

Additional material The Washington Post

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times