In Picture Books and Paintings, Oliver Jeffers Explores Our Place in the Cosmos

Artsy, article by Jacqui Palumbo. Read the full story.

Artist and illustrator Oliver Jeffers has been authoring picture books since 2004, but he was struck by the power of storytelling when his son was born in 2015. He realized that reality is just a series of stories told to us, or that we tell, and it was his responsibility to guide that narrative for his newborn son. “It was up to me to instruct this brand-new human who was a completely fresh ball of clay,” he explained. It was, he added, a chance to “fundamentally make a better story.”

Jeffers, who hails from Belfast and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, would go on to publish the New York Times bestselling picture book Here We Are: Notes For Living on Planet Earth in the fall of 2017, which he has called “a guidebook of sorts about our planet” and “the basic principles of humanity.” Around the same time, he began translating some of the same ideas into a series of oil paintings, “For All We Know” (2018), and later, a public installation, The Moon, the Earth, and Us (2019), both of which are now on view in New York.

Jeffers was schooled formally as a painter and believed that painting would be his path, before discovering his talent for making picture books. He’s since authored and illustrated more than a dozen books, which celebrate curiosity, adventure, and empathy, and have been avidly read by children and adults alike.

“Rather than separating or taking a tangent [in my] career, I just decided to do both things until someone told me otherwise—and nobody ever did,” Jeffers said.

The varying facets of Jeffers’s practice often mirror one another. He becomes fixated on a concept, and may interpret it through different projects at the same time. For example, while writing and illustrating The Incredible BookEating Boy (2006), a tale about a boy who quite literally consumed what he read to become the smartest person in the world, Jeffers was also producing a series of paintings, “Additional Information,” inspired by the conversations he’d had with a quantum physicist about the search for “ultimate intelligence.”

In Jeffers’s latest book, exhibition, and installation, the commonalities have never been more direct, each exploring one’s place in the universe and our responsibility to the world we inhabit. In the nocturnal, cosmic scenes of “For All We Know,” on view at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery until February 16th, astronauts explore the dark skies and deep seas—two expanses of unimaginable depth and mystery. Symbolism abounds in the form of matchsticks, pianos, and ships set aflame, against the backdrop of glimmering constellations and ebbing tides.

The series began with Jeffers’s fascination with star patterns, and the idea that the tradition of naming constellations—which has been handed down since ancient Greece—was ultimately a form of storytelling. “It was a very early attempt to make sense out of chaos,” he offered. “[It was] a way to understand their place in the world.” Then, in August 2017, when Jeffers drove to Tennessee to experience the totality of the Great American Eclipse, his own understanding of Earth’s place in the solar system shifted. “Seeing two objects line up against each other with your own eyes…is very different from understanding the numbers and being told what the distances are,” he recalled.

That sense of perspective is an undercurrent through both Here We Are and “For All We Know.” The constellations that serve as a guide for Jeffers’s younger readers in his book appear in his paintings, too, entreating older viewers to consider the mysteries of the ever-expanding cosmos and their role within it.

Perspective also inspired Jeffers’s current installation on New York City’s High Line (between West 15th and 16th Streets), The Moon, the Earth, and Us, which considers the relationship between Earth and its lunar companion.

The piece was inspired by the accounts of astronauts on their first voyage to space, which Jeffers found while working on Here We Are. “Astronauts orbiting planet Earth have been known to point out their home cities and countries in the first days,” he wrote in his self-titled monograph, published in 2018. But eventually, they only point out their continents. Finally, they realize “that the whole planet, the tiny blue marble in a sea of impossibly immense blackness, is home. Upon returning to Earth, it’s impossible to see anything the same way again.”

Jeffers sought to capture this phenomenon, called the overview effect, in the installation, which features to-scale models of Earth and the moon. Passersby can walk from one globe to the other, and as they approach the moon, they will see hand-painted text reading “No one lives here”; as they walk toward Earth, “People live here” will come into view. Through the project, Jeffers asks viewers to consider the artificiality of borders: The further away that one gets from their home city or country, the less it matters where one comes from. When in space, nationalism means nothing.

Despite making work for different audiences, Jeffers doesn’t tailor his projects to children or adults. “It’s all coming from the same place,” he noted. In Here We Are, he had to follow a more traditional narrative structure; in his paintings, he could address the idea of belonging in the universe in “a bit more abstract and meandering” way, he explained; and in his installation, he focused on one particular aspect of his larger message.

While Jeffers wants viewers to enjoy his work and to “get the sense of playfulness” he imbues in each project, he said, he also wishes to use his work to catalyze a paradigm shift in how they look at the world and their own lives.

“I guess there’s a quite obvious tone to the work about the extreme fragility of it all, like of existence in the first place,” Jeffers explained. “And rather than that being a dire, morose, morbid thing, it’s…this appreciation that we’re here at all to begin with.”

Oliver Jeffers: Picture Books for All Ages

Watch the full video on BRIC TV.

Fine artist, illustrator, and author Oliver Jeffers has been telling stories through images for almost two decades. Take a peek inside his studio as Jeffers tells us about his artistic practice, how being a new parent informs his work, and the crossover between his fine art and picture book work.

Dana Schutz, Marc Newson, Oliver Jeffers, and More Must See New York Shows


Whitewall, review by Pearl Fontaine. Read the full story.

Oliver Jeffers
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery and The High Line
Now—February 16

Oliver Jeffers is having a New York moment. His solo show “For All We Know” is currently on view at Bryce Wolkowitz gallery, while his installation “The Moon, The Earth, and Us” just opened on the High Line between 15th and 16th streets. At Bryce Wolkowitz, you’ll find a new series of oil paintings that open the door into a dreamlike world inhabited by deep-sea divers, astronauts, sinking ships, burning matches, and floating pianos. Jeffers utilizes years of observation to create his imaginary universe where the night sky and ocean are a constant, and brief glimpses at the interconnectedness of the world leave his viewers wondering, and ready for more.

“The Moon, The Earth and Us” public work includes two large sculptures of the Moon and the Earth, allowing passersby to experience an astronaut’s point of view, seeing the entities in an accurate depiction of size and distance from one another. Aiming to highlight the wholeness of our planet as a single organism, the works also pose questions around the manmade borders that divide, rather than unite humankind.

The Moon Lands on the High Line


Citylab, article by Laura Feinstein. Read the full story.

Oliver Jeffers’s new installation, The Moon, The Earth and Us pays tribute to the most famous photograph taken of earth and questions our place in the universe.

It’s an auspicious week for those looking to the heavens. Last Sunday, much of the world was treated to a rare, crimson-hued lunar eclipse, known as the Super Wolf Blood Moon, and starting today and lasting through February 14th, visitors to Manhattan’s High Line will be able to actually “meet” the moon itself—care of Oliver Jeffers’ installation, The Moon, The Earth and Us.

Conceptualized to spark dialogue on the significance—or lack of significance—of man-made borders, replicas of the earth, and moon made of steel, foam, and coated in acrylic, will transform the Chelsea Market Passage of the High Line between 15th and 16th street into a micro-solar system. The Earth, built to scale at eight feet in diameter, and The Moon at two, will both be mounted at a height of 10 feet, roughly a city block apart, with the earth positioned to rotate slowly, almost imperceptibly, on its axis. Inside each man-made border on this faux-earth will read the simple inscription “People Live Here,” while The Moon’s surface will state the obvious: “No One Lives Here.” Through this ambitious lens, Jeffers seeks to underline just how arbitrary man-made constructs like borders and walls truly are when juxtaposed with the magnificent vastness of space.

“I recognized the same language I would often use when describing Northern Ireland from the perspective of New York.”

The installation is also an exploration of the shift in perspective that occurs when our planet is seen from a significant distance, the “Overview Effect” normally reserved for astronauts and space satellites. The most famous example is the "Earthrise" photo taken by astronaut Bill Anders from the Apollo 8 mission on Christmas Eve in 1968 which just had its 50th anniversary last December. The first photo to capture the earth in its entirety, it briefly lassoed the global imagination, enabling Americans to put aside the horrors of the Vietnam War to contemplate the cosmic power of the universe. “We'd seen our planet from above with the help of satellite imagery, but Apollo 8's crew were the first to witness the full globe of Earth rise up in the distance, providing a speck of dazzling color against the alien lunar landscape,” astronaut Jim Lovell said of the view during a live television broadcast. “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth."

Jeffers, a prolific illustrator and children’s book author from Northern Ireland, has made the globe and planetary travel something of a motif in his work, which includes his illustrated books Here We Are: Notes for Living on the Planet Earth and How to Capture a Star, a children’s story about the transformative power of exploration in space and on earth. “I’ve always created maps and globes to make political comments,” said the artist, who has often found inspiration Buckminster Fuller’s seminal work Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth, a series of essays on the challenges and idealistic solutions of man, as well as his own upbringing in Northern Ireland.

Through this ambitious lens, Jeffers seeks to underline just how arbitrary man-made constructs like borders and walls truly are when juxtaposed with the magnificent vastness of space. (Oliver Jeffers Studio)

“When I was researching what astronauts noticed about looking at earth from a distance of the moon, I recognized the same language I would often use when describing Northern Ireland from the perspective of New York,” he said, referencing his attempts to explain Britain's complex geopolitical troubles to American audiences. “But when you remove yourself, when you get enough distance, you see the earth entirely differently.” And, he found, it takes away daily life's power to inflict emotional distress. During the eclipse, Jeffers experienced the same feeling of repose. “That sense of perspective you get when the moon is blocking the sun, you feel infinitesimally small and are left with the realization of just how isolated we are.” The installation, coincidentally, went up just a day after one of the largest full moons of the year.

This installation will be Jeffers’s most structurally ambitious project to date, realized with the help of set designer Jason Ardizzone-West, who conceptualized the schematics and renderings, along with Showman Fabricators, and filmmaker Guy Reid, of the Planetary Collective.

Ultimately, Jeffers would like visitors to walk away from the installation with a sense of awe, placing in perspective our own petty concerns in the larger context of our solar system. “People who have gone up to see the earth in its entirety—every single one came back with a changed perspective. The realization that you cannot see borders in space, that we are just part of one single larger system, that the lines of countries are drawn arbitrarily, the result of battles or tensions that only really exist in the imagination of humans, is something astronauts first noticed." Today, he explains, "people are often caught up in the everydayness of their lives, which generally doesn’t involve an awareness of being part of a larger system.”

This installation is Jeffers’s second project to appear in New York this month. “For All We Know”, a series of paintings and illustrations with a cosmic-bent, opened at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in Chelsea last Thursday. These two works are part of a larger project that soon may have a more immersive aspect but, for now, the artist’s lips are sealed.

Oliver Jeffers Paints Our Place in the Stars

Cultured Magazine, article by Leah Rosenzweig. Read the full story.

Oliver Jeffers is still talking about the total solar eclipse of 2017. You remember—the once-in-a-lifetime celestial event which spanned the entire contiguous United States. The national spectacle that brought us a slew of marriage proposals, live tweets, and our very own president peering into a partially eclipsed sun.

Visibility of the shrouding varied, as the path of totality covered only 16 percent of the country. I, for one, could not see anything from my hilly Los Angeles viewing place. But Jeffers, who traveled with his family to the path of totality in Tennessee, saw everything—and nothing.

“It’s like a black hole in the sky,” Jeffers says. “There’s magnitude in watching something so vast. In a total eclipse, you get a split second of new perspective. You feel infinitesimal.” Though with this last total eclipse, Jeffers says, it was more than a split second. And as the disk of the sun remained veiled by the moon, he began to feel smaller and smaller.

Perhaps best known for his illustrated children’s books, Jeffers has been intimately exploring themes of earth, space, galactic relativity and the unknown for some time now. But becoming a father in 2015, he admits, has caused him to do so with renewed urgency. “My son doesn’t know anything yet, so it’s up to me and his mother and his entire community to teach him absolutely everything. Both the gravity and the possibility in that were sort of terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time.” In 2017, Jeffers published Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth. Dedicated to his son and much like his artwork, the book serves as an exploration of the unexplored. Constellations serve as connective tissue between the earthly and the celestial, while human figures are scaled dramatically against boundless purple skies.

In his latest series of oil paintings, many of which are drafted using an iPad Pro, Jeffers plays with crisis of identity at home—such as in his depictions of his native Belfast—and anxious wanderlust for a universe we’ll likely never know. The iPad acts as a mapping tool for imagining works before they’re realized in paint. Atop a high-resolution image of old book bindings arranged into a makeshift canvas, Jeffers shows me how he sketched a mobile-like pattern. The goal is to plot the whole painting so that nothing falls between the cracks. Otherwise, Jeffers tells me, it becomes difficult to paint.

Inspired by American Futurist Buckminster Fuller, he uses earthly symbols like a piano and a car to represent the need for innovation and a lack of care for planet earth. “In a way, Earth is a spaceship with all of us aboard,” says Jeffers, referencing Fuller’s famous analogy. “If we treated it as a mechanical vehicle, things would be much different than they currently are.”

With his first New York solo exhibition at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in Chelsea on view through February 16, running in conjunction with his High Line debut which launches tonight, Jeffers approaches the earth and its solar system from a place of genuine curiosity. For All We Know, at Wolkowtiz, is about representing different perspectives and telling stories—stories of self and one’s place in the galaxy, stories that come to us through star gazes, through eclipses. Similarly, the High Line engages perspective through the lens of borders both galactic and earthly.

In The Moon, the Earth and Us, Jeffers explores the relationship between the Earth and its moon with two massive globes displayed at 15th and 16th streets. The surface of the moon reads, “No One Lives Here,” while each country on the Earth features the words, “People Live Here.” Nearly 50 years since the American moon landing, Jeffers intimates that the lunar body is still largely a thing of mystery, especially to us Americans who have trouble imagining a world beyond our own national boundaries. It’s a reminder that everyone matters, and as Jeffers tells me, that we’re “part of a greater system,” that it’s not just “you, your life, and your country,” that we are at once crucial and infinitesimal.

Principled Uncertainty. An artist falls in love with an engineer. Perspectives shift.

Articulate, interview with Jim Cotter. Watch the video.

Oliver Jeffers is forever striving to better understand the world around him. His musings have populated canvases, galleries and books. But in 2015, Jeffers faced his most daunting blank slate, his first child Harland, who was a stark reminder of what it means to start from scratch.

Oliver Jeffers: We brought him home from the hospital and quite comically, I started giving him a tour of our, then, One bedroom apartment, you know, like “This is the living room, this is where we keep our chairs, chairs are what you use to sit in.” “This is the kitchen, this is where we cook food. Food is what you eat.” And I was like, "You really know nothing, "you know absolutely nothing."

On behalf of his newborn, he reevaluated everything he thought he knew about the world. Letters to his son took on a life of their own, eventually turning into a best-selling picture book, called Here We Are.

Jeffers: I try to be very, very careful about not putting anything in there that's opinion, but only factual, so people come in all shapes, sizes. We may all look different, sound different, but don't be fooled, we are all people. That's a truth. There are animals too, even more shapes and sizes, that's a truth, you know.

AJC: Some of them can talk, "I can!"

Jeffers: Yeah, yeah. Everything in there is, no matter your religious, or your political beliefs or anything, there's nothing in there that you could really take up against.

AJC: What are the parenting dos and don'ts that you got from being a kid yourself, and how is that then reflected both in the books you create and in your own parenting style?

Jeffers: Well did you notice there's a quote from my dad in the back of the book.

AJC: I did.

Jeffers: All the way through, growing up if you ask any of my brothers "What were dad's three words?" It was respect, consideration, and tolerance.

These words were particularly powerful in the 1970s Belfast of Jeffer's childhood. The so-called Troubles, the ethno-nationalist conflict that killed an injured thousands, was still decades from a truce. The circumstances weren't ideal for raising a family. Indeed, mister and missus Jeffers had tried moving away to Australia, where Oliver was born. But they returned to Ireland when his mother began showing the first signs of what would later be diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis.

Jeffers: Which she was afflicted with for the rest of her life and died, what year is this? 18 years ago, from that. But in a way, yeah, everybody is going, if it works the way that it's supposed to work, everybody will lose their parents at some point or another, and in a strange way, I feel like me and my brothers were given a bit of secret weapon because of the way she decided to treat her illness and treat us and treat her own... I suppose, reason for living. We, I think, at a young age, more earlier than most people, got a sense of perspective of what is actually important and what is not, and what is worth worrying about and what is not. And in a way, we celebrated her life rather than mourned her death, whenever she passed, and it felt empowering, very, very empowering, and actually my book, The Heart and the Bottle, was about that, but not in the obvious way. It wasn't my relationship with her, but it was more a comment on, I remember watching a couple of different friends lose people close to them, and the way in which they mourned was very aggressive and sort of inward facing and quite destructive. And I just thought... Well we were actually, we had been quite fortunate in the way in which we've embraced this loss, this death in a way in which it was not hidden, it was not, not a sad thing, but it was celebrated and it was out in the open and it was talked about. And I think we have a much more healthy perspective on life and death, simply because of that.

From a young age, Jeffers knew that given his druthers, he would grow up to become and artist. He tended to spend his time with creative people, pursuing philosophical conversations. But when he met the woman who would become his wife, Suzanne, an engineer by training, they both discovered new ways to think about the world.

Jeffers: The reality dawning on both of us that art and science or logic and emotion were two totally different but equally valid ways of interpreting the world around us, and the mathematics and science at a very high level is not that different from philosophy in art, it's just asking questions and not necessarily thinking you're gonna get the answers. Like many things, immediately I was struck with a visual, I wonder if I can try to explore, if it's possible, to look at one thing from two totally different perspectives at the same time. And that's when I started making these figurative paintings and putting mathematical equations over them. And so the very first one was this glass of orange, and then I picked an equation that showed how light refracts when it hits curved glass, and then created that as the light source. So that was that. Then I was like "Okay, that's an interesting thing." And I may well have just left it at that one painting, but then, it was exhibited and bought by this, a doctor of quantum physics, Hugh Morrison. And he got in touch with me and said "I am fascinated by what you did,” "clearly you're making work about Bell's string theory," can we meet for a cup of coffee?" And so I met him for a cup of coffee and was like "I have never heard of Bell's string theory.” "What is that?" And we started having these conversations, and he was interested in talking to me because I was coming at these scientific problems from a completely different perspective than any of the students that he would be teaching.

AJC: And a far more, probably, naive post?

Jeffers: Much more naive. But he said that naivety was actually an advantage in a lot of ways, cause I wouldn't get tripped up in the same reasoning that other people would take for granted.

Those conversations resulted in a series of paintings about equations as explained to him by Morrison, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Of the many theories they discussed, Jeffers became particularly interested in something called the uncertainty principle.

Jeffers: Which as he put it, proves mathematically that you can't prove anything mathematically.

Also known as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it states that both the position and the velocity of an object cannot be measured simultaneously, even in theory. This, despite the fact that an object must, of course, exist before it can move.

Jeffers: So, sort of making art, and then hiding it in as a way to explore. Even though the art is underneath there if you can't see it, does it still have these properties that you would attribute to it, like beautiful or ugly or whatever it might be. When I saw the end result, there's something really intriguing about this, just how crisp that line is at the top that's made by gravity. But I didn't quite understand what it was about yet, and I left it there at that point. And then, it was, I suppose, months later the painting was exhibited, and caught a little bit of a life online on its own, and people would ask "Did you really paint the whole thing? "Or did you just paint the top half?" I was like "No, I really painted the whole thing."

But Jeffers didn't have any proof until a year later, when a picture of the original finally surfaced.

Jeffers: When I saw this photograph of this painting I made over a year prior, it looked completely different from how I remembered it. I find that really jarring. And then, the same day, my younger brother was over visiting, and he started telling the story, to a group of my friends, about my mother. And he started telling the story wrong. And normally as a big brother, I would feel a moral obligation to publicly correct him, but I didn't this time, because it happened the same day that I had seen this photograph. I was like "Wait a minute, maybe he's not wrong. "Maybe I'm wrong." At that point, the whole project clicked into place, and I wanted to try and recreate the circumstances around the first performance, and look at what is this idea of... an objective truth, and is it really there? So I started making these paintings, not photographing them, then recreating the ceremony, inviting people, getting them to leave their phones, cameras at the door, so the only way in which they could be at the performance was to just look at it with their eyes. Then, dip it in sort of this quite ceremonious way, then afterwards, ask them to speak on camera about what they remember seeing, and then follow it up a year later with "What do you remember seeing now?" and I, without realizing it, I was tapping into this whole thing about the way in which people basically create their own identities, and the more I was doing this, the more this sort of vast truth was sinking on me which is that any person is no more than the stories they tell, the stories they are told and the stories that are told about them, and that's it.

Oliver Jeffers in Mexico

Hello to all our friends in Mexico! Oliver is very excited to be visiting Mexico this November to celebrate the International Children and Youth Book Fair (FILIJ), share his favorite books with you and draw some pictures. Great ready for some fun.

November 9, 2018
Book presentation of Here We Are and book signing|
FILIJ - Parque Bicentenario

November 10, 2018
Book presentation of Here We Are and book signing
Rosario Castellanos Bookstore

November 11, 2018
Illustration jam and book signing
FILIJ - Parque Bicentenario

Find out more here and here.

Soapply X Oliver Jeffers

Oliver is pleased to announce his limited edition bottle as the first of six parts of the Soapply Artist Series.  In support of their like-minded drive to create items that are ethical and socially impactful, in this case, supporting water and hygiene initiatives in Ethiopia, his design is an extension of his body of work exploring the greatest unknown aspects of our planet: the vast oceans and outer space. In a sparkling turquoise motif -a change from the bottle’s simple black text - Oliver’s constellations and sea wrap the Soapply glass bottle and it’s packaging, inspired by the fundamental use of its contents and uplifting it’s previously quiet design with a sense of whimsy. 

Visit here for more details and to order. 

The Boy: His Stories and How They Came to Be


We are excited to announce The Boy: His Stories and How They Came to Be, a treasury of all four Boy stories: How To Catch a Star, Lost and Found, The Way Back Home, and Up and Down, alongside never before seen sketches and notes about on the making of each book. Now available in the UK and Ireland!

Find it here.

The Working Mind and Drawing Hand of Oliver Jeffers available today!

We are pleased to present Oliver’s newest monograph by Rizzoli is on sale today! The Working Mind and Drawing Hand of Oliver Jeffers gives readers an unprecedented and intimate window into his creative process, weaving his popular works with never-before-seen art and illustrations, alongside his personal story of how he came to art, his love of books, and his bookmaking, fashioned from his personal sketchbooks. This dynamic visual biography is Jeffers's personal chronicle of an artist who blends his love of creating stories with his love of art and his infectious charm, and is a must-have for art lovers and bibliophiles both young and old. Written by Oliver Jeffers, contributions by John Maeda and Quentin Blake and Bono and Sharon Matt Atkins. Published by Rizzoli Books, NY

Buy Online / Find Locally