The House of Illustration is very much Quentin Blake HQ and it is now very much playing to this theme by hosting an exhibition of 100 figures done by the man himself. They cover quite a few from his immediate post graduation days right up until the 1990s when for some reason he suddenly stopped. Curiously the exhibition doesn't say why which is odd given they could just ask him.
The first room is a mixture of wet pastel life drawings, which look like a sort of heavy charcoal and pen and watercolour sketches in which you can see the beginnings of the Blake style of illustration which is so familiar. Two interesting things are revealed though, one was that when he got home he would add imaginary figures and background to the drawings, and secondly after a while he wouldn't sketch directly from the model but what from their body stayed in his mind.
Eventually he abandoned painting from real people altogether and painted instead from figures conjured entirely from his mind. It is this aptitude, something I find almost impossible to do, that leads him to be such a great illustrator. The sketches develop though into these large oil paintings, like the one at the top and above. They were never done for public consumption it would seem but instead seem to have been a sort of relief. I can understand this, it is nice to do work that you just do without worrying about who will see it.
The style is interesting, these great washes of colour, the form highlighted in blue (as in the above) or red or pink, and the shadows picked out with again big patches of colour. You get the feeling it is all done at quite some speed. The features are always obscured, which is not something I like in life drawing but I am prepared to forgive when the model doesn't actually exist. What you end up with is a vivid painting that has strong tonal and colour contrasts. They are very nice and it is interesting to see this other side of Blake.
The final room finishes off with figures done in a gentle wash of water colour. Fans of Blake will find this interesting but if you are interested in life drawing then this is a show that will provide another perspective.
The other exhibition, occupying the North Gallery is called Journeys Drawn: Illustration from the Refugee Crisis. It is as the name indicates, illustrations inspired by (that seems to be the wrong word, reacting to would perhaps be better) the Refugee crisis. The quality is very good but it is fairly depressing stuff and being in a fragile mood at the time I found it difficult to stay in the room with for a protracted period. The intense portrait above is a good example of the type of thing you can expect to see. I have to say it makes for a fairly odd companion exhibition for the light hearted jollity of the Quentin Blake show.
There are a variety of works on display though to the illustrative of tragedy such as this very good picture of people on a small inflatable boats, being battered by the sea and vainly trying to save one of their number (above left). I like the way their reaching and hugging arms are echoed by the splashing tendrils of waves.
You also get actual animations (which you can sit and watch) as well as story boards for animations, such as the above right. I had gone to see Quentin Blake you see and only really encountered this show by chance. I wasn't really in the mood for it so probably didn't spend the time with it, that it deserves, I scampered round and retreated instead to the gentle whimsy of one of Britain's foremost illustrators. I shall probably go back though and give it a second go. It is on until 24th March 2019.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.