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Quentin Blake, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, 07 Jul – 14 Oct


Quentin Blake is best-known to most as the illustrator of many Roald Dahl books. As a massive Roald Dahl fan, I have grown up with many of Quentin Blake’s drawings on my bookcase so you can imagine how excited I was when I heard the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle were exhibiting Blake’s ‘As Large as Life’ collection.

As Britain’s first ever children’s laureate, Quentin Blake has spent a lot of time during the last few years producing works which have a therapeutic effect on residents of hospitals and health centres in the UK and abroad. ‘As Large as Life’ is a compilation of these specially commissioned works. Thanks to ‘Seven Stories’, the national centre for children’s books in Newcastle, there were an additional five prints on show that Blake had designed especially for the centre.

As soon as I stepped into the gallery, I spotted alien-type characters in Blake’s inimitable style. The aliens and children in the illustrations swap patient and doctor roles and as part of the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to see if they can find the missing aliens hidden around the building. These aliens, from the ‘Welcome to the Planet Zog’ collection, now animate waiting rooms and other public spaces in The Alexandra Avenue Health and Social Care Centre in South Harrow.

Quentin Blake’s drawings are so distinctive and unique but also encompass true emotion and understanding. ‘Our Friends in the Circus’ was made to display in a mental health unit for older adults. The illustrations feature circus characters celebrating lifelong ability and persistence. It includes fire breathing men with patient women behind them holding buckets of water and people walking tightropes and jumping on trampolines. All of the ‘Circus’ portion of the exhibit are bursting with life and enthusiasm. Blake has an amazing knack for capturing the right tone in his work, simply through the colours he uses.

My favourite collection within the exhibition was ‘Ordinary Life in Vincent Square’. Quentin visited Vincent Square Eating Disorder in London to discuss his ideas with service users as to what they would like to see in the clinic. What emerged was a celebration of everyday life; with characters walking dogs, shopping and brushing their hair. These understated illustrations are evocative, almost poetic.

When the maternity hospital at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Angers, France opened in 2011, each of the 11 delivery suites, as well as the nurses’ station and fathers’ room, were decorated with illustrations of mothers meeting their babies for the first time underwater. Childbirth is shown in these illustrations as being a process which is completely at one with the world around us, something that equalises humans and animals alike. These illustrations are in stark contrast to the pain one would expect from childbirth. The colours used are calming and the mothers depicted are serene and happy. I reckon these pictures would be better than any Epidural! OK, maybe not!

Around the rooms, there were light boxes with mini prints available for visitors to trace over and colour in themselves which made this exhibition lots of fun for younger visitors too.


By Vic on October 26, 2012

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