Tag Archives: Roald Dahl

Quentin Blake Gallery & Comic Creatrix – House of Illustration

Quentin Blake Gallery and Comic Creatrix, House of Illustration

If you were asked to name an illustrator almost certainly the first name to pop into your head would be Quentin Blake whose distinctive and deceptively simple style is instantly recognisable. And his work will almost certainly be the first image you think of when someone mentions the author’s he’s worked with. In particular, think of any book by Roald Dahl – be it The Witches, George’s Marvellous Medicine or Matilda – and almost guaranteed you’re thinking of Blake’s ink figures, embodying Dahl’s work so completely that they’re still in your mind decades later.

So, when the House of Illustration announced it would open a permanent Blake Gallery, the first of its kind in the world, it made perfect sense. Blake is closely associated with the space above King’s Cross, a Trustee and subject of its inaugural exhibition back in 2014 – Inside Stories. The Quentin Blake Gallery is a tiny L-shaped room behind the shop which is currently hosting Seven Kinds of Magic, an exhibition of Blake’s magic-related drawings for seven different authors since the 1960s. This runs until August where it will be replaced by another themed collection, this time all devoted to the BFG – the pieces will change, but it will always be Blake.

Seven Kinds of Magic is as minimalist as Blake’s own style with just a handful of pieces labelled only with a book title, author and year. So there will be something for everyone, parent or child, a work familiar from your own childhood to enjoy in this show. For me, of course the original depiction of Dahl’s Grand High Witch’s swirling eyes as she destroys some poor creature is a treat but others will enjoy Rosie’s Magic Horse, Patrick, Angelica Sprocket’s Pockets, Angel Pavement, My Friend Mr Leakey and Magical Tales. There are no signs explaining each story and nothing telling you which page of the book the displayed illustrations belongs to… but you don’t really need it. Not only are Blake’s drawings so vivid that you can see immediately what is happening in the story, but this is deliberately an exhibition about the art and not how accurately Blake told the story. So marvel at the skills, the inventiveness, the use of colour and energy in each of these works, and more than anything the power of Blake to give life to the work of so many authors for so long,

The House of Illustration (HoI) is probably the best value gallery in London, charging you just £7.70 (£7 without donation) to enjoy all three of its current shows. There’s a tiny exhibition of Shojo Manga cartoons in the lovely sunlit gallery besides Quentin Blake until 12 June, drawn by female artists with some borrowing from Western traditions and associations including a strangely fascinating Edwardian-based series by Akiko Hatsu. We also see an evolution of character in these works which take in changing attitudes to homosexuality and romance in incredibly detailed flourishes by Keiko Takemiya.

The centrepiece show until Sunday 15 May looks at the work of female comic creators, which takes over its larger four room exhibition space. One of the most impressive things about HoI is the well-researched and carefully curated nature of its exhibitions that always manage to speak to its audience intellectually without dumbing-down the material or making ridiculous associative leaps. From the illustrations of Ladybird books to the First World War sketches of E.H. Shepard, it’s clear that considerable thought and care has gone into these shows resulting in a high quality experience – and Comic Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics is no exception.

Starting with examples from the eighteenth-century caricaturists like Mary Darly, it takes in the role of female comic artists through a variety of thematic contributions including graphic novels, comic strips, erotic cartoons, and in a completely new genre of health-based graphic novels. The latter acts like a diary, charting the diagnoses and progress of treatment for various diseases. Its easily digestible form is both a cathartic outlet for the writer and an accessible guide for other sufferers. Similarly, the works of Una look at sexual violence against women in the hope that transferring them to another medium may make it easier to confront and discuss.

It is abundantly clear from this exhibition that comics now take multiple forms, not just entertainment but a flexible medium for telling stories no matter how light-hearted or grave, and women are at the forefront of some of these developments. Looking for something a little more frivolous, and there’s some wonderful examples of Nicola Lane’s work in which a grown-up Beryl the Peril from the Dandy ends up married to the Beano’s Dennis the Menace – which she also discusses in the video interviews at the end of the exhibition – as well plenty of superheroes, space adventurers and bizarre creatures to delight any traditional comic-book fan.

Cartoons are also included from around the world demonstrating the role that women from as far afield as India and Africa are playing in making sense of their own cultures and proffering it in a digestible way. In addition we’re told about the Japanese artists using manga to create accessible introductions to the work of Shakespeare, whose plays take on new meaning and association in this stylised illustrated form, helping to ease new audiences into appreciating the timelessness of these stories. We also see work from Jackie Omes who developed the first syndicated comic strip representing African-American women, while Rutu Modan’s 2007 comic strip is set in Tel Aviv and tells the story of romance between a young woman and an Israeli soldier.

Comic Creatrix is a fascinating insight into the work of a diverse range of female artists covering an even more diverse range of subjects. Evidently, using cartoons has become a valuable medium to represent serious topics in an engaging and non-threatening way that is allowing the voices and experiences of more people to be heard and understood. This exhibition is only running for one more week so make time in your schedules to visit the House of Illustration to see if before it closes, and for just £7 you’ll see three of the most fascinating and well-curated shows in London.

The House of Illustration is currently hosting Comic Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics until 15 May, Shojo Manga: The World of Japanese Girls’ Comics until 12 June and Quentin Blake: Seven Kinds of Magic until 24 August. Entrance to HoI costs £7.70 (with donation) and concessions are available.

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Quentin Blake: Inside Stories – The House of Illustration

Imagine any Roald Dahl novel, Matilda say or the BFG, what’s the picture that immediately appears in your mind? Chances are it’s one of the distinctive illustrations by Quentin Blake who’s longstanding collaboration with Dahl not only brought those stories to life in his uniquely simply style, but for many of us, more than 30 years after they were written, remains the definitive picture of those characters. The primary images we have of The Witches, The Twits, George’s cantankerous grandma and many others are in our minds because Quentin Blake put them there.

The House of Illustration is a new exhibition space close to King’s Cross Station that celebrates the artistry of those who have designed pictures to accompany children’s books. Neighbouring the relocated Central St Martins campus overlooking Regents Canal, its inaugural exhibition quite rightly celebrates Quentin Blake and his many decades of work. Although this is a very small space, just three rooms, there’s quite a lot packed in which gives an interesting insight into the process of illustrating and how Blake works with the writer to enhance the text of the book.

The first room is decorated with Blake’s images and has one cabinet explaining in cartoon form, of course, what an artist must think about when illustrating a new piece. This is a clever way to introduce you to the thought processes including which parts of the text to draw and how to get across the key story points, issues or emotions. Each part of the exhibition includes explanatory labels which Blake has written to help the viewer understand more about his working style – this is a nice touch because you then end up with a direct connection to the pieces on display rather than how they’ve been interpreted by a curatorial team.

Most of the work is in the second (and main room), with each wall or display case dedicated to an original artwork and sketches from a particular book that Blake has illustrated since the 1970s. These include two of Dahl’s books – Danny the Champion of the World and The Twits – as well as his own creations. The Dahl pieces were carefully chosen to highlight the contrasting styles that an illustrator may need to use; The Twits is more grotesque, cartoonish and silly to reflect the pantomime-nature of the book, whereas for Danny, Blake used a more realistic style to enhance the warmth and familiarity of that story. In both cases we get to see a number of pieces from the books which clearly underline this point about the illustrators’ skill in first selecting what to draw and then carefully suggesting the tone of the book.

This is perfectly demonstrated in the final room dedicated to Michael Rosen’s Sad, depicting his own grief at the death of his eighteen-year old son. First we get to see the email Rosen sent to his publishers with the text for a potential book, written like a prose poem, which in itself is extremely moving. But then, around the room, are Blake’s interpretations of those feelings and descriptions of grief which both hammer home the crucial role of the illustrator and pack an enormous emotional punch at the end of this exhibition. Particular images linger in the mind, including Rosen’s description of sadness being all around him, which Blake depicted as a hunched Rosen against an imposing and overwhelming grey backdrop, where you can almost feel the emotion pressing down on him. Or the last picture of Rosen alone by a single lighted candle. These ensure you go home knowing that the pictures in children’s stories aren’t just pretty things to have, but a core means of conveying particular messages in a way that’s both visually appealing and quite affecting.

Although there’s a good amount of Blake’s work here, including his reimagining of Voltaire and accompanying images for David Walliams’s The Boy in the Dress, this is still a rather small exhibition which you can cover in about 30 minutes. Honestly, I was expecting there to be other work to see as well especially as the advertising hoardings on the walk from King’s Cross show lots of other artists’ work so I was expecting some permanent galleries in addition to the exhibition space. But if you go with that in mind, you’ll enjoy a chance to understand more about the process of illustration, and the man whose images will remain the definitive picture of many of our favourite childhood characters.

Quentin Blake: Inside Stories is at the House of Illustration until 2 November 2014. Entrance is £7.00 but a number of concessions are available.


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