24 July 2014

Quentin Blake: Inside Stories at the House of Illustration

I am rather fond of illustrations so it was a very pleasant surprise to discover the new House of Illustration just a stone's throw from the office. The stone throwing is made a little easier by me being on the top (7th) floor of Kings Place and the House of Illustration being at ground level on the other side of the road. It is located in Granary Square, part of the new Central Saint Martins complex just north of the canal and a couple of hundred metres north of Kings Cross.

It's opening exhibition was Quentin Blake: Inside Stories. I would have gone to see the exhibition whatever it was, just to find out what the gallery was like, but it helped having fond memories of Quentin Blake's work from reading Roald Dahl books to small boys.

It cost me £7.50 to get in (my attempt to walk in without paying failed miserably) which I thought was a little steep and I was further aggrieved to find that my usually helpful ArtFund card carried no weight. When places like the V&A and Saatchi Gallery are free and the much larger Cartoon Museum is £7 (free with ArtFund) then this sort of fee takes some justifying.

The exhibition was not that big, not much more than one room but it was deceptively busy and it took me half an hour or so to see and read everything. And I did read everything.

The exhibition was spread over all of the walls and two large tables.

It was arranged by book and each section started with an explanation of the book and the approach taken to the drawings. It was then illustrated with several original drawings.

One of the things that I found interesting was the way that some parts of some of the pictures had been redrawn and the new part literally cut and paste over the old. This is not something an illustrator has to do today when they use digital tools extensively or exclusively.

I only knew the Dahl books so it was interesting to learn about the others. Different techniques were used in each but all the drawing had the same distinctive and instantly recognisable style. Most of them were amusing too.

The surprise came in the second and smaller room that was dedicated to just one book. This was Michael Rosen's Sad Book which was about his reaction to his teenage son's death. It was quite a shock after the monkeys, princesses and washer-women in the previous room. It was still very much Blake though and Rosen's words were a poignant read.

The whole exhibition was neatly curated and arranged with plenty of helpful words to explain the pictures.

It will be interesting to see how the House of Illustration develops and I hope it grows to become a worthy and established gallery catering for those of us who like our stories told in pictures.

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