I have been living in London almost three weeks now. My jet lag has worn off. My post-flight cold is gone. I am settling in and learning how to get around this amazing city.
For my first post as “foreign correspondent” for Books Around The Table, I chose to visit Sir Quentin Blake‘s “Inside Stories”, the inaugural exhibition at the recently opened House of Illustration gallery space.
House of Illustration was begun in 2002 by a group of UK illustrators, led by Blake, to establish the world’s first “home for the art of illustration.” Over the next decade, the founders worked to raise awareness and garner funding to find a permanent home. In July of this year, they opened its doors in Granary Square, near King’s Cross, London.
“House of Illustration’s gallery and education space is the place to see, learn about, and enjoy illustration in all its forms, from adverts to animation, picture books to political cartoons and scientific drawings to fashion design.”
Blake pledged his massive archive of original drawings and illustrated books to House of Illustration, so it is fitting that the opening show be of his work.
I know Sir Quentin Blake’s work best from his illustrations for Roald Dahl’s books, but he has done hundreds of others (not all of them for children) that many of us from the US aren’t as familiar with. It was a wonderful opportunity to see so many of his illustrations at once, but even more valuable to see his thoughts, notes and preliminary sketches included as well.
The entry to the exhibit immediately immerses you in Blake’s world with a floor-to-ceiling drawing of his studio space. The case beneath presents you with insights into how Blake approaches his art.
(You must excuse the poor quality of these interior photographs, as I was surreptitiously snapping these shots with my smart phone on the sly. I risked admonishment for you, so please don’t turn me in to the authorities).
One entire room was devoted to Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. This was the part of the show that impressed me most deeply. Blake managed to balance sadness and joy with delicacy and subtlety. Perfect in its gentleness. I’m still thinking about those images.
Blake defines illustration as “drawing with a purpose.” That is the most accurate, least condescending definition that I have heard to date. It doesn’t try to fit it somewhere along a hierarchy between fine art and craft. It just says what it is.