‘100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake’

The House of Illustration’s exhibition, ‘100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake’ shows us the technical skill and practice behind one of the UK’s most famous illustrators. 

Best known for his delightfully effortless illustrations for author Roald Dahl’s children’s books, Quentin Blake has always been an accomplished artist. In this exhibition, the House of Illustration takes visitors for the first time ever through the unseen life drawings Quentin Blake created over 50 years. Never intended to be finished artworks, the expressive, sketch-like quality of many of Blake’s pieces in this exhibition capture the figurative form of the human body effortlessly. His more finished oil paintings show these same effortless motions through the brushstrokes that still allow Blake’s unique style to shine through. This lack of pressure to produce a resolved work of art really struck me throughout all the pieces – they were all created for the pure joy of practicing his art! No fancy, pretentious titles, no deep and meaningful descriptions, just deeply skilled studies of the human form (with a few imaginary taxidermy birds added in here and there – only making them even greater in my opinion!)

The curation of the exhibition had no pretense either. It was a refreshingly ‘to the point’ display with very little interpretative text. It was simple, informative and completely appropriate for the artworks. The carefully selected text that was available was well placed, insightful, easy to read and, well – memorable! I will always feel obliged to read interpretative labels available in an exhibition and this gave me a wonderful excuse to completely immerse myself in the works and to simply enjoy the artwork. You could argue that art speaking for itself is illustration, after all!

I couldn’t help but feel inspired to return to life drawing classes as I explored the gallery. Especially after discovering that for Blake’s later commercial illustration work, he never had to use a reference again. He had built up a sort of ‘library’ of images in his head, purely from his hours of practice. Naturally, this put him in a great position to produce work quickly and from memory; a quality that I continuously endeavour to achieve in my own illustration work. To be able to draw what I want, when inspiration strikes really is a vital part of my sketchbook work which is often what I use as reference for finished illustrations.

So often, I hear people disparage illustration for its simplicity. This exhibition gently proves these unsubstantiated opinions mute by showing the skill and dedication behind the artistic ability to create ‘simple’ illustrations. I found the movement and subtle, edgy nature of Blake’s life drawings to be incredibly emotive and in true Quentin Blake style, delightfully fun!

Thanks to the House of Illustration for the complimentary tickets to the exhibition for my entry to the “Drawing a Day” challenge back in September. ‘100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake’ runs until January 27th 2019 at the House of Illustration, London.

All photographs of artworks taken at the House of Illustration’s exhibition, ‘100 Figures: The Unseen Art of Quentin Blake’

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