Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Can't Get My Exhibitions Up Fast Enough; ART from His Work on an Illustrated Waiting for Godot to a New Collaboration with Will Self, Quentin Blake Is as Quick on the Draw as Ever at 86, He Tells Melanie McDonagh

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Can't Get My Exhibitions Up Fast Enough; ART from His Work on an Illustrated Waiting for Godot to a New Collaboration with Will Self, Quentin Blake Is as Quick on the Draw as Ever at 86, He Tells Melanie McDonagh

Article excerpt

Byline: Melanie McDonagh

IT'S hard to think of any contemporary artist who has given so much pleasure to so many people as Quentin Blake, Britain's finest illustrator. His spiky, subversive, idiosyncratic drawings can be identified a mile off. He's best known as the cocreator of Roald Dahl's children's books (Dahl used to observe that "when people see the BFG, what they see is what Quint draws") but the trouble about bringing Matilda et al to life is that they overshadow everything else he does, and it's an awful lot. But for all that, he's modest in his demeanour; a man with a humorous outlook on things.

Right now, at 86, he's bringing out the Quentin Blake Papers, a "suite of pictures, like a tiny exhibition" on themes that he likes: five are published tomorrow, with more to follow. "I can't get exhibitions up fast enough," he explains, "so this is the format instead". A Mouse on a Tricycle is one -- "the mouse is a joke; it's a pretext for people's reactions," he says, one being that of a horrid little boy who's about to hit it with a mallet.

Another, Feet in the Water, has a man apparently reciting poetry to a heron; another shows an old lady sitting Canute-like in a chair on the beach as the waves come in. They've got the quality of wondering innocence that the theologian Herbert McCabe ascribed to PG Wodehouse.

"Some are ideas that came to me first thing in the morning; five o'clock. One or two I drew in bed, on a book which you can put on your knee. You can't have a pen and a bottle of ink, though." Much is done with china marker; a lovely thing to draw with, he says.

It's not his only project. He's recently had an exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings of spikily suggestive drawings of uncanny forms of transport called The Only Way to Travel, now published as a book, Moonlight Travellers, with an accompanying text by Will Self ("he was very eloquent about it and very enthusiastic"). So instead of illustrating other people's words, people are writing to his drawings.

He chose the theme because "I could see myself inventing things I didn't know what. Aeroplanes that were birds and birds that were aeroplanes. I don't know where they came from and why they were so gloomy". They're all in grey, except the moon, which comes in lots of colours. Why all that grey? "Colour is very interesting," he says. "Lots of it instinctive. But I had a good run with The King of the Golden River, [John Ruskin's fairytale, which he brought to life last year, a homage to the original illustrator, Dicky Doyle]. You look at the line if you don't have colour."

This collaboration with Will Self then is that unusual thing, an illustrated book for adults. He's got views about why contemporary adult fiction is so rarely illustrated, whereas in Dickens's day lots of novels were. Essentially it's because so much of the action happens in characters' heads. "It's an internal monologue very often. How do you illustrate it? You feel you want to contribute something. Not to take over the act but it is sort of a double act."

There can be few harder double acts than pairing up with Samuel Beckett but that's what he's doing with his latest project for the Folio Society -- to illustrate Waiting for Godot. …

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