What would Roald Dahl’s characters have been without Quentin Blake? Charlie would still have won his golden ticket; Matilda would still have overcome Miss Trunchbull; and Danny would still be champion of the world. Nevertheless, as soon as we imagine Danny in his caravan or Matilda in her classroom or an awe-struck Charlie in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, we see the uninhibited brushstrokes of Sir Quentin Blake, the splattering of his colourful watercolours, the unencumbered nib of his scratchy pen.
There is no denying the talent of a skilled illustrator; the ability to visually interpret words and ideas in new and stimulating ways is no easy task. And in a medium that has, in an ever more digitally-dependent society, been forced to redefine its boundaries, is it any wonder that Blake is so highly regarded in this competitive, yet challenging field?
This week, the work of a new generation of illustrators is being duly celebrated at The Wilson, a contemporary art gallery and museum hidden amongst Cheltenham’s Regency architecture. The gallery – vaguely reminiscent in its exterior of the Pompidou Centre in Paris – is currently host to the eighth annual Cheltenham Illustration Awards, administered by the University of Gloucestershire. This year’s theme, Being Human, has captured the imagination of illustrators worldwide and the resultant exhibition is a pictorial extravaganza of the competition’s finest submissions.
“The focus of the Awards has always been one of narrative. Visual storytelling, whether sequential or single image, gives scope to the imagination and opens up possibilities beyond the present moment; what happened before? What happens next?” – http://www.cheltenham-illustration-awards.com
With a wide variety of applications on show, including etching and letterpress, and with both abstract and figurative work taking equal prominence, it is an exhibition that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also visually challenging. Teresa Jenellen’s arresting illustration of the Grimm fairy tale, The Seven Ravens http://www.teresajenellen.com, and the uncomfortably realistic portrait, The Beekeeper by Dan Des Eynon http://www.dandeseynon.com, both caught my attention in terms of their content – a surrealist infusion of nature and humanity – and their stunning attention to detail.
Though the works are united under the Being Human theme, the originality of the artists’ interpretations of that theme demonstrates the unique adaptability of the modern-day illustrator and, although several pieces echo the works of the masters (including Lowry and Lichtenstein), I feel that the exhibition overall is not only captivating, but inspiringly progressive.
•This year, selected submissions from the ‘Student’ and ‘Emerging and Established’ categories are exhibited alongside the works of guest illustrators, including Shaun Tan http://www.shauntan.net and Lara Hawthorne http://www.larahawthorne.com.
• The exhibition runs until November 9th.
• Images can be found on artists’ websites or at http://www.cheltenham-illustration-awards.com along with further details of the awards.
•Poster image by Luisa Uribe http://www.luisauribe.com.
• Visit http://www.cheltenhammuseum.org.uk or follow @TheWilsonChelt on Twitter for more information about exhibitions and events at The Wilson.
• Hosted in association with http://www.pittvillepress.co.uk. On Twitter: @PittvillePress
• For further information regarding the history of illustration visit: http://www.fabulousnoble.com/news/feature_history_of_illustration