The Exhibitionist Part One: Another crack at galleries

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. I don’t really like art galleries. Sorry.

I am just not the kind of “artist” who feels at home in white walled spaces. They feel contrived to me, simply rooms full of art stuff, created for the sake of art stuff. They just feel a bit…I suppose pointless; an exercise in self indulgence in it’s purest form. Sorry, that’s the designer and commercial artist in me, but I’m just not comfortable there. Give me a comfortable chair, give me a library, a bookshelf, a store front, a magazine. Give me a space that has it’s own purpose, adorned perhaps with relevant, beautiful things and that’s quite a different matter. But art displayed just as art? I struggle.

But I was in London, I had time to kill and I had a plan. Time to try again. To make friends with the gallery, the home of aesthetic culture. The home of ART.

So I did.

Let’s not get carried away or anything, I started small. I decided on two locations of contemporary illustration. Illustration is my passion. Illustration usually has a brief. Illustration is safe.

Baby Steps.

So I hit up the AOI World illustration Awards, currently on display in Somerset house. I do actually love this venue so already we were in a good place.

And it was free. Winner.

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I have to say, there was a lot of great talent to explore there. And by that, I mean there was a lot of book illustration and drawings that look like things 🙂

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The exhibit was probably what I’d consider the perfect size, two and a bit, uncluttered rooms of nicely spaced work, one central strip of glass cabinets. Easy and digestible and not at all so large it dragged. It wasn’t overwhelming, it didn’t make my heart sink and it didn’t remind me I am a failure of an “artist” for getting bored in an environment I should, by association, consider home.

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The work all had a chance to breathe, which felt relevant in a collection like this, because everything on display HAD been created for a purpose, be it a book, an advert, a poster or jacket; it meant you could take each item in and consider it in the context for which it was made. I like a bit of snappy analysis of a work’s strengths. I think this is my downfall with fine art. I can’t assess it because I don’t understand why it’s been made.

Sorry, I’ll stop moaning.

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For a collection of contemporary illustration, the AOI exhibit was a really nice one. It reminded me of Pick Me Up back in the day, before it got a bit tired (the last few years have not impressed me so much- I WILL STOP MOANING NOW) and I noted a good few new gems to keep an eye on, as well as simply enjoying the work of those I already admire. Yes, I noted the works of many already adorn my shelves.

I know it’s a bit of a cop out in my exploration of galleries, but the highlights for me were mainly book and design based illustration. Big talents like John Burton showed up and the lovely works of the brilliant Lesley Barnes, Alex T Smith and Chris Haughton were as  enjoyable as ever, both in browsing and poster forms.

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I actually liked the repetitive set up of the show a lot, in which the same pieces were encased on walls, in cabinets and on shelves. It gave it a ‘catering for all’ kind of vibe; the work in it’s raw form, the work as a ‘work of art’ and the work in the context of other work next to it. Each variant allowed the illustration to speak in a new context.

With the book being the best one. Obviously.

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I liked a lot of the work on display, both by the known and the unknown. I can’t say I think it was a broad collection in terms of the style of work, which did surprise me given that is was a collection from all over the world. Even across cultures and geography, a lot of the drawing styles, use of shapes, colour spoke in a similar language; but realistically I suppose it was unlikely to be anything else. This exhibition was always meant to be a snapshot of contemporary illustration which, like anything, is at the mercy of fashion. With so much exchanging of cultures, information and products through the magic of the internet, I suppose it’s very reasonable that fashions are less confined by borders than ever before. It was a shot of the trendy world of illustration in the here and now. And I, personally, really liked it!

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If you are hankering for a bit of tasty, picture based joy and are in the area, I would suggest checking it out. It won’t take your whole afternoon, it won’t cost the earth and it likely will inspire you, even just that teeniest bit to go and make some nice things. Or at least look at them.

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Hat’s off to you Somerset House, the AOI and all your contributers. The awards were well deserved, there was very little that I felt fell short of acclaim; naturally not all to my personal taste, but I suppose that is, in part, the joy of the visual arts.

And I really do appreciate, support and have enjoyed the hard work from those working to champion the humble illustrator. There’s an awful lot of talent on this earth and events like this do their bit to try and push those, often fresh faced, creators into the limelight they really do deserve.

So, was I cultured yet? I decided I wasn’t. I’d really enjoyed my speedy mosey through the contemporary illustration scene, but it wasn’t quite enough. Onward to part two of my afternoon exhibitioning…

 

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Bagley Book Club- The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight review

nibblesome_02Author: Elli Woollard

Illustrator: Benji Davies

Publisher: Macmillan

It’s a corker this week from wordsmith Elli Woollard and the ever brilliant Benji Davies. I picked this number up at the Power of Pictures panel event at Foyles in London a week or so back, so it only seemed fair to rock it into the spotlight, while I’ve still got Davies’s insight fresh in the old noodle.

A tried and tested formula, The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight is a tale of  surprising and unlikely friendships. Sent on a fledgling flight to gobble a knight of his very own, we are led by Dram, the utterly fearsome-less and totally huggable wee dragon, into the heart of a storm.

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nibblesome_01In a beautifully drawn and tastefully coloured sequential spread, our little chap is blown off course. Frankly, I defy any human with a beating heart not to express even the tiniest of concerned, cooing syllables here. Davies captures such peril in the wide eyes of the reptilian baby, there just isn’t a homosapien alive whose heartstrings are sturdy enough to withstand a good tug. It’s a perfect Attenborough moment. Yeah sure, the bloodstained and ruthless lion has been out for an afternoon’s killing, but look how FLUFFY the babies are!

Humorously mistaking the beast for a duck, our compassionate (and equally adorable) knight James discovers the disheveled castaway in a pond. The pair grow a bond as James nurses his unknown foe back to health through  Woollard’s charming and lyrical story.

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So he took off his armour and said with a grin,

‘I’m coming to help you’ and he waded right in.

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Known for her witty poetry, it’s no surprise that Woollard’s text is such a delight. Free from any hint of forced rhymes or lyrical-cheese, the text flows from page to page with a real smoothness, wit and charm.

One of my pet peeves in children’s books, is a poorly paced tale. Often confined to strict page counts of 32 or 40 pages, there’s sometimes a feeling of being desperately hurtled by the words through the story to reach the conclusion before the page count cuts it short. If so inclined, illustrator s then have to desperately compensate with enough additional narrative to halt the reader for a bit; a decision I’m not at all adverse to, might I add. As highlighted many times, pictures SHOULD have their own tale to tell, it’s the key magic of a picturebook to contain a duel narrative. But equally, no matter how fine the artist, it won’t ever fully patch up the holes of a lacking author.

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But THIS is where the Nibblesome Knight really shines. Both Woollard and Davies are in full control of the flow of the narrative. Davies’s pictures are a brilliant partner to Wollards’s poetry prowess, with enough characterisation, heart and little environmental joys in every image to give them depth, yet without so many additional details that derail the reader from the pace of the story.

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The poem is so smooth and funny, it’s only right that the illustrations work with it to maintain the swing of the lyric, and Davies has done so masterfully in this example.

nibblesome_13And it’s true, his interpretation of the characters make this tale. Adorable with a capital ‘A’, I demand plushy merchandise of the innocent duo (I am DESPERATE to hug this dragon!) The pair are subject to a good number of emotions as they build and reveal their, unknowingly forbidden, friendship and even with he simplest of facial details, Davies creates the full, emotional spectrum with precision. For a story all about the value and strength of relationships, empathy and compassion, characterisation and humanisation were key and Davies nailed. it.

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‘Come to the woods and I’ll fetch you some honey.

It makes a good medicine, all soothing and runny.’

It’s worth saying too, how strong the artwork in general is. The palette is bright and full of life yet without being nudged into the realms of gaudy. The scratchy ink marks are loose and organic looking, yet clearly drawn with clear precision. The depth of the painterly lines give this tale a much more shadowed darkness than Benjies previous works and it works brilliantly in the Ye Olde world of knights and Dragons.

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The classic narrative ends as it should; happily ever after. Predictable? Yes, but who on earth cares. As far as children’s stories go, this is a solid, classic example. It breaks no boundaries, it holds few surprises but it’s charmingly written, witty and funny and the characters are endearing and beautiful. The world is consistent and the imagery is breathtaking and it’s another brilliant example of the ‘classical reworked in a contemporary world’ kinda deal. It’s definitely worth a look, but don’t be surprised if you explode into a mass of whimpering, gooey “Awwwww”.

It is inevitable.

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