What: The Quentin Blake: Inside Stories exhibition
Where: National Museum Cardiff
When: Tues-Sun 10-4:45 until 20th November
About: A temporary exhibition showing the work of illustrator Quentin Blake, including optional activities, coinciding with Cardiff’s ‘Roald Dahl 100 Wales’ celebrations.
Although Quentin Blake is best known for his work illustrating Roald Dahl’s children’s books, what’s so wonderful about this exhibition is the fact that, whilst there’s certainly enough to keep children occupied (including a drawing/reading table, as well as questions around the walls to encourage engagement with the stories and drawings) there’s also a more ‘in-depth’ side, possibly more appealing to older children and adults, with written explanations accompanying each section, and best of all (in my opinion at least) the chance to see Blake’s artistic process.
There are two audio/video stations situated in the room showing the illustrator at work in his studio, with descriptions of how he goes about creating his images. As an illustrator I found this to be the most interesting part of the exhibition, as it allowed you to take a step into a successful illustrators studio and identify with what he was saying. You got to see not just refined, polished images in a book, but to delve into the nitty-gritty – the ‘before’, the reality with which so many art students will identify with. Perhaps the most refreshing thing to be said by Blake himself was that, despite his almost slap-dash style (bold, untidy lines, watercolour spilling out of said lines) he admits he actually has doubts in his ability at times just like all of us. I recommend all art students, from GCSE to degree level, to visit the exhibition and view this peek behind the scenes.
Another pleasant surprise was the inclusion of work illustrating areas of literature that you definitely wouldn’t associate with Quentin Blake’s quirky style. After being charmed by Blake’s Roald Dahl work, the exhibition progresses to contents of a more unexpected nature, for example Voltaire’s philosophical tale: Candide. The fact that Blake stays true to his distinct style, whilst presenting us with illustrations of a somewhat gruesome nature actually, in a peculiar and perverse way adds to the morbidity of the tale. The exhibition presents a holistic view of Blake’s work and life as an illustrator, and challenges initial thoughts and assumptions by showing us this less talked about serious side. The part of the exhibition which I found to be most affecting was Blake’s illustrations accompanying Michael Rosen’s ‘Sad Book’ – telling the true tale of Rosen’s grief at the loss of his son. Blake captures the feelings of desolation and hopelessness perfectly, perhaps surprising to those who associate his work with tales of magic and fantasy.
The exhibition offers the opportunity to be as much or as little as you choose. From flitting around the relatively small gallery space browsing the illustrations, to spending hours discovering the stories behind the work and learning more about the illustrator, this exhibition will suit any time frame. In terms of souvenirs however, whilst the free entry may be kind on your wallet the merchandise is more than pocket money may cover. It would have been nice to have seen more illustrated postcards too, something which you can almost always rely on to accompany the exhibitions.
♦See if you can spot the rogue BFG drawing that seems to have slipped into the ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ display case!
♦Check out the impressive and atmospheric copper engravings in the main gallery, by David Jones.