Quentin Blake: In the Theatre of the Imagination

Ghislaine Kenyon on her book about Quentin Blake.


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Today sees the launch of Ghislaine Kenyon's Quentin Blake: In the Theatre of the Imagination - an intimate portrait of the much-loved illustrator. We're excited to be sharing this guest blog from the author on the motivations and insights that went into her book. We're also offering our readers 30% off the book on the Bloomsbury website - just enter BLAKE at the checkout!

Six or seven years ago I resolved to write a book. After a career in teaching and in arts and cultural learning, it wasn't that I was now hankering to become an author, but I did want to write a particular book.

I had been lucky enough to encounter Quentin Blake in a variety of illuminating ways: first as a teacher when I used his Monster series and early books such as Patrick to encourage reluctant young readers; later, when I watched my own children's growing understanding of how singularly the Dahl books were brought to life (sometimes also mitigated, when the humour was especially dark) by Blake's illustrations. And finally when I worked with him, firstly at London's National Gallery when I was the internal curator for his groundbreaking exhibition Tell me a Picture in 2000, and afterwards on exhibitions and projects to produce illustration schemes for hospitals in France. I gained a privileged 360 degrees, (well, make that 300) view of the man, his working life, his work, and, significantly, its reception.

One of the reasons, it seemed to me, that his work communicates so well with such wide audiences is that the first three are so closely interwoven. The quiet, unassuming person with such an original sense of humour, the hugely gifted and mainly self-taught draughtsman, the Cambridge-educated literary figure who knows so well which texts to illustrate, and how to treat each one appropriately and distinctively, the storymaker, marshalling his characters across the page like a theatre director, and the man who can so powerfully imagine himself into the situations of others - even those experiences he has never had himself, such as being the patient in an Eating Disorders unit as seen in these images.

This is the work and person I wanted to show to the world, who may often see Blake as not more than a kind of lighthearted, zany - he hates the word - cartoonist (with no slight to that profession of course).

All these skills and qualities make Blake the perfect exponent of his profession. Illustration is an art that we understand because it's always around us, in books and in the public realm, in visual communications of all kinds, and in Blake's hands the subjects of our everyday are mirrored back to us in an extraordinarily imaginative way.

Blake is a great advocate for the importance of his art, not only for its own sake but also because he believes that it can be a bridge to art of all kinds. And nowhere is this advocacy better expressed than in Blake's ongoing support first for the idea and then for the reality of House of Illustration, a place which keeps on answering the question 'what is illustration?'. It is very good news that he is now to be given a permanent space within HOI, the Quentin Blake Gallery, where he will continue to answer that question, undoubtedly in thoughtful and surprising ways.