ALFIE ATKINS AT THE MUSEUM
21.6. – 17.9.2023
This summer, Nivaagaards Malerisamling presents, for the first time in Denmark, an exhibition featuring Alfie Atkins and his creator, author and illustrator Gunilla Bergström’s original artworks for 9 out of the total of 26 books she created about the little pensive boy with a big imagination.
The exhibition showcases illustrations and collages that unfold the everyday life of Alfie Atkins, which tends to become quite magical when shared with his kind father Bertil, his invisible friend Malcolm, Aunt Fifi, sweet Grandma and his best friends Milla and Victor. Throughout the exhibition, connections are made to the life story of Gunilla Bergström.
Children can embark on a small homemade helicopter – just like the one in the book ‘Very Tricky, Alfie Atkins’ – or visit the drawing and collage workshop, where they can try their hand at creating visual narratives and their own figures using Gunilla Bergström’s technique . During the summer vacation from June 26 to August 6, the workshop will be open every day (except mondays) from 12:00-15:00, including a creative guide who can teach children as well as adults how to make collages and use different drawing techniques.
A childhood friend for young and old
With vibrant colors, striking contours and thought-provoking dialogues, Gunilla Bergström (1942 – 2021) sought to draw and write about life itself. She became best known as the creator of Alfie Atkins.
The Alfie books were published over a period of 40 years from 1972 to 2012, and many people today carry Alfie with them as a beloved childhood friend. In Alfons Atkins’ visual world, everyday stories are opened up to children without leaving out the adults. One can be big and small at the same time in this world of images that amuse, concern and touch the heart, and where Alfie shows how to navigate difficulties and find solutions.
“It is very important for children’s books not to always tell everything. You must be allowed to have secrets, and there must be something to ponder. (…) There is so much honest children’s literature overloaded with facts about the world we live in. And facts are great, don’t get me wrong, but it is even more important to imagine and fantasize. After all, that is why we read, to experience something extra.”
Gunilla Bergström, 2017
Gunilla Bergström used collage as her primary narrative element, long before digital technology became widespread within illustration. She used blank paper, wallpaper samples and pieces of fabric to create her images, combining this collage with cartoon images, and often drawing thick black lines around her figures.
The first book in the series –Good Night, Alfie Atkins – was written by Gunilla Bergström in 1972: It’s late, and it’s dark outside, but Alfie doesn’t want to sleep. Dad is so kind, fetching everything Alfie asks for. But in the end, Dad becomes so tired that he falls asleep on the living room floor. Alfons puts a blanket over him and decides not to call anymore. After all, a sleeping father can’t come to his aid. And if no one comes when you call, you might as well not do it, Alfie thinks to himself.
Alfie Atkins lives with his father in an apartment in a suburban concrete building, where he experiences and takes on life’s struggles with creative and philosophical thoughts, silly and secret games – and helping hands from family and friends.
He is an ordinary boy who can be happy, curious and mischievous, but also afraid of the dark, angry and envious. He is whimsical and full of imagination, with many questions about life: Who is Alfie Atkins? And what is war and violence? These are some of the questions he explores.
When Gunilla Bergström started a new Alfie book, she would always choose a theme that she herself was interested in. This is why Alfie’s age changes throughout the series – in some books he’s four years old, and in others he can be up to seven years old.
Gunilla Bergström was born in Gothenburg in 1942 and passed away at the age of 79 in Stockholm, where she lived most of her life. She was a trained journalist and worked for several years at the Swedish newspapers Dagens Nyheter and Aftonbladet, before becoming a full-time children’s book author and illustrator in 1975.
She made her debut as an author in 1971 with the book Mias far flytter, after which the series of Alfie books began to be published. In the 1970s, she also wrote the books about Bill & Bolla, inspired by her own children, her son Pål and daughter Boel, who has a cognitive impairment.
The 26 books in the Alfie series make up the majority of Gunilla Bergström’s work and are popular in many parts of the world, having been translated into 40 languages and printed in more than 10 million copies. Among Alfie’s many names are the Swedish Alfons Åberg, the Brazilian Alho Åberg and the French Alphonse Aubert. Alfie has also lent his name to the Swedish cultural award Alfons-Bokalen and Alfons Åbergs Kulturhus (the Alfie Atkins Cultural Centre) in Gothenburg. Over the years, the books have been adapted into films and TV series, and numerous picture books and thematic books have been created about the little boy.
Gunilla Bergström was honored with a wide range of awards, scholarships and accolades throughout her career, including the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the Swedish Academy’s Schullströmska Award for children’s and youth literature, the Swedish Authors’ Fund’s Cultural Award, the Emil Award and the Swedish Government’s gold medal, Illis Quorum.
Gunilla Bergström’s original illustrations and collages for the exhibition ‘Alfie Atkins at the Museum’ have been kindly lent by the Nordic Watercolour Museum.