Ode to Happiness is a grown-up’s picture book. Featuring artwork by artist Alexandra Grant and text by actor Keanu Reeves, this thoughtfully crafted artist’s book serves as a meditation on making the best of a bad situation. In the tradition of a classic “hurtin’ song,” the text externalizes what is typically an internal monologue, a spontaneous, melancholy incantation of near-hopelessness—and in so doing, subtly pokes fun at it. The images—beautifully realized in somber inky washes of black on white—reflect the dark and light, the pathos and humor of the text. Neither entirely earnest nor wholly ironic, the book is ultimately completed by the reader, who brings his or her own experience to its interpretation.
Ode to Happiness is a testament to collaboration. Arising from the authors’ friendship and facilitated behind-the-scenes by Janey Bergam, the book was created through a process of exchange, as a gift each collaborator gave the other. Completing the collaboration was Gerhard Steidl, the legendary German printer and publisher who precisely translated the original artwork into book form and brought elegance and simplicity to its binding and packaging.
Intended as a reminder to take oneself only so seriously, Ode to Happiness is both a meditation and a gentle tease about how we cope with life’s sorrows.
Image: I draw a hot sorrow bath, 2010, sumi ink on paper
ARTINAMERICA.COM: Alexandra Grant and Keanu Reeves Collaborate, Happily
BBC: Keanu Reeves’ Ode to Happiness
The Guardian: How Keanu Reeves Cheered Up
Reeves and Grant at Waterstone’s, June 18, 2011