Christoph Niemann, a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and the artist behind “Father’s Day Off,” often experiments with animation in his images; here, though, he presents a simpler scene, one yoked to his own experiences. Niemann recently answered a few questions about his art and his relationship to fatherhood.
What are your earliest memories of art?
My earliest memories actually involve drawing, which included a benevolent artistic rivalry with my older brother.
Were your parents encouraging?
They gave us an unending supply of paper, crayons, pencils, and felt-tip pens—though we constantly forgot to put the caps back on. Other than that, they followed the smartest strategy to enable creativity in your child: they left us alone and didn’t comment much on what we did.
Niemann’s playtime with his kids led to the book “I Lego N.Y.”
You’re a father to three sons. What’s the most important part of your role as a parent?
Our kids are so incredibly different, and even though they’re close in age (ten, thirteen, and sixteen) they’re in such different places in their heads. As always, the big secret is spending time with them. I read somewhere that—when you’re lucky enough to engage them in a conversation—they should be talking ninety per cent of the time. This is very challenging.
Did something inspire this scene in particular?
So much of parenting is different from what I might have imagined before having kids. One of the few things that does feel like a picture book is when I fix something or assemble a piece of furniture and have a child as an assistant. Especially with our youngest one, who’s an eager craftsman.
How has fatherhood influenced your work?
The best moments happen when you get to spend time doing things that are not really respectable for a grownup to do unless a child is close by. I’d been off Legos since I was thirteen, but since having kids I’ve enjoyed a complete relapse. We do what I remember doing with my brother: we sit quietly next to each other, everyone working on their own projects, occasionally asking around for a blue six-by-two. I’ve even turned these sessions into proper work when I started building New York out of Lego—in the most abstract way possible.
Niemann's book “Subway” was also rooted in his kids’ passions.
The other topic where our interests align is public transport. When they were small, I once took them to the Museum of Natural History. I quickly realized that they couldn’t care less about that big whale—all they wanted was to hop back on the C train. Fine by me! From that day on, we spent the weekends aimlessly riding the M.T.A. My wife thought that was the most dreadfully boring pastime possible. Eventually, I turned this obsession into a book.
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See below for more Father’s Day covers:
“June 21, 1969,” by Charles Saxon
“Father’s Day,” by HA (Bob Zoell)
“Father’s Day,” by Kathy Osborn
“Father’s Day,” by William Joyce