The Conductor by Laëtitia Devernay (Chronicle Books, London, 2011; first published in Switzerland in 2010)
Introduced by Clare Walters
In this tall and narrow format, wordless book, Laëtitia Devernay, a French artist, gives the reader a visual interpretation of music, showing the conductor perched among a cluster of trees conducting an orchestra of leaves.
As the leaves swoop and swirl around the sky they morph into birds that interweave and overlap in the manner of melodies and harmonies.
Finally the conductor takes a bow, returns to earth and plants his baton in the ground, which then sprouts leaves of its own.
Laëtitia Devernay took the Book Illustration and Overall Winner prizes in the V&A Illustration Awards 2012 for The Conductor.
Laëtitia Devernay is a French artist who trained in Strasbourg, and at the École nationale supérieure des arts appliqués Olivier de Serres in Paris. She works as a graphic designer and teaches illustration to children. In The Conductor, her first book, she weaves a wordless story of a fantastical conductor who summons leaves from the trees, directing them to take flight as a flock of birds that swoops in formation above his head. In explaining how she created it she says,
‘I wanted to make the Conductor a silent hero. What does he do when he is away from his musicians? How does he find inspiration? Like me, he looks to nature. To create a living forest I thought about the imagery of music; the strings, the scrolls, the bow tie and swallow tailed suit. The horizontality of the score became the verticality of the trees, sheets turned into feathers, birds into notes. I used pure imagery to tell my story so that it is open to the interpretation of the reader. I also think it’s nice to represent music with a totally wordless illustrated book.
I haven’t represented a piece in particular but an air in general. A swarm of birds announces the moves of violins, a unique row in a desert sky represents an oboe soloist…an entire symphony…then, silence, while the small conductor takes a bow. It’s a story that can be read over and over, as in nature, everything changes, but the cycle continues.’