HISTORIAN SIMON SCHAMA APPLAUDS QUENTIN BLAKE’S TAKE ON BOOKISH TYPES

Shapero Rare Books is delighted to present an exhibition of new works by Sir Quentin Blake. Opening on the 29 November 2019, Anthology of Readers is comprised of sixty pen, ink & watercolour drawings, all of which affectionately caricature people who love books.

Famous for his work with Roald Dahl — he provided the illustrations for The incredible Mr Fox, Matilda, The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, amongst others — Anthology follows a highly-acclaimed presentation of Blake’s work at Hastings Contemporary in the summer. 

The artworks, in various formats, are executed in the artist’s trademark style, which Daily Telegraph writer Melanie McDonagh described as ‘anarchic, moral, infinitely subversive, sometimes vicious, socially acute [and] sparse.’ 

Prints of four of the original artworks, each in a limited edition of 25, will also be available, and to mark the exhibition, Shapero has produced a fully-illustrated book featuring an introduction by the historian Simon Sharma. Limited to 100 copies, it will also include a print signed by the artist himself.

Of his work, Blake (pictured below) says: ‘I do a freewheeling sort of drawing that looks as though it is done on the spur of the moment. However even a single drawing needs a certain amount of preparation and planning. Most of the time I need to do a rough in which I find out how people stand, what sort of expressions they have and how they fit on the page. For a sequence of drawings more planning is needed, and one needs to think of a number of questions at the same time (which is part of the interest of the job).’

Then the artist employs a lightbox. ‘I put the rough drawing I am going to work from [on the light box]… Ready to hand is a bottle of waterproof black ink and a lot of scruffy-looking dip pens… What happens next is not tracing; in fact it’s important that I can’t see the rough drawing underneath too clearly, because when I draw I try to draw as if for the first time; but I can do it with increased concentration, because the drawing underneath lets me know all the elements that have to appear and exactly where they have to be placed. 

Normally I begin with the most difficult piece of the drawing – some particular facial expression, some particular gesture or stance – so that if I get that wrong, I don’t have to repeat the whole of the drawing. Consequently, it’s not impossible for me to find myself at the end of a session of work surrounded by expensive sheets of watercolour paper with a small face bearing not quite the right expression in the middle of each. 

There are various other stages at which I may have to stop and start again – the drawing may be finished but uncoloured or even completely finished before I decide that it lacks some flavour hinted at in the rough, or that there’s some quality of line or colour that doesn’t seem quite consistent with the rest of the book. And sometimes I may do two or three finished versions in the search for some phantom felicity. This comes under the heading of Artist’s Neurosis, and later I am not always sure why I made the choice I did or if it was the right one.’

Says Bernard Shapero: ‘We are honoured to be showing these shrewdly observed works by Quentin Blake, indisputably Britain’s greatest living illustrator. His effortless ability to caricature social groups with wit and vivacity is justly celebrated, and that is writ large over these wonderfully observed drawings and watercolours of book lovers.’

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