Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The House of Illustration

2 Granary Square
King’s Cross
London N1C 4BH

Sunday September 21 2014

This was partly an expedition to look at the newly opened (July of this year) House of Illustration but also the buildings around it, which are the regenerated King’s Cross. With both St Pancras and King’s Cross Stations and surrounds now more spacious and welcoming, attention is turning to the rest of the environment; open spaces, the canal, bridges, trees.

Many of the buildings were warehouses or engine sheds; Central St. Martin’s (now part of the University of the Arts) has been in its ‘new’ building since 2011 and Waitrose are converting a former potato shed while the House of Illustration, whose concept dates from 2002, has now occupied the ground floor of what was probably an office rather than warehousing block. Like many smaller galleries it will hold a series of special exhibitions during the year, rather than hold a permanent collection though I believe Quentin Blake, as one of the founding illustrators, has already pledged his original work, and this exhibition ‘Inside Stories’ celebrates the range of his work.

Apart from the combined shop and ticket entrance the space consists of four rooms.  The drawings and illustrations on display cover both the preliminary (very) sketchy placements and then the finished art work as it appeared in the various books. The range shows his talent across varying subject matter:

‘Clown’ – this book is pure illustration so everything has to be conveyed via the drawings, yet it is not a strip cartoon.

‘The Wild Washerwomen’ sadly out of print, shows the artist’s ability to differentiate seven and ultimately fourteen different characters who are never caricatures.

‘Roald Dahl’s ‘The Twits’ – disposable in my view,  but then I ‘m not a child and the much more naturalistic ‘Danny the Champion of the World’.

In similar but more urban vein is the much more modern David Walliam’s ‘Boy in a Dress’ also shows a range of very recognisable school children.

Candide’ is indeed an illustration of Voltaire’s caustic twist on optimism.

If you like a more complex tale Russell Hoban’s ‘Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen’ contains some  depictions of intricate machinery and human contortions while The Story of the Dancing Frog is simplicity itself and an animal tale to boot. I think Quentin Blake must be rather fond of frogs as they often appear as bemused onlookers in a variety of the books. The artwork – from first idea to finished concept – for these eight books are distributed round the largest of the rooms.

Directly behind the shop is a light airy room set aside for workshops I suspect and for this exhibition also offering an explanatory video of the artist at work on an illustration for The Twits and another for Clown.  The second room also provides copies of the books to read and offers children further experiences to colour in on different sheets or draw for themselves – materials are provided and the friendly staff are keen to support visitors to ‘get involved’.

The last room is reserved for the superlatively expressive art work that accompanied ‘Michael Rosen’s Sad Book’ which is exactly that – a depiction of the former Children’s Laureate’s experience of the grief at losing his eighteen-year old son Eddie.  If you thought it was impossible to draw loss and anger and bereavement you would be wrong; Quentin Blake does it most movingly.

This particular exhibition lasts until November 2 2015 and is then followed by
Paula Rego/Honore Daumier ‘Scandal, Gossip and other Stories’  14/11/2014 – 22/3/2015

Paddington: Illustrated and Animates 18/10/2014 – 4/1/2015

Rachel Lillie: Odyssey 3/11/2014 – 11/1/2015  Artist in Residence

Francisco Toledo & Dr. Lakra 3/4/2015 – 28/6/2015

PS For more Quentin Blakes see Hall Place entry: 19 May 2014

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