Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, until Tue 1 Jan
When you take an illustration away from the text it was created for, the lone image can quickly become a very dire prospect or can leave the viewer scratching their head, like the thirteenth chime of a mad clock. The first Children's Laureate Quentin Blake's illustrations on show at Kelvingrove fall into the latter camp. His crazy, jaggy little drawings are knots in a narrative, dwell points and highlights in the 300 or more books he has illustrated.
The work on display in this too-small exhibition at Kelvingrove focuses on the latter part of the artist’s career (which began in 1960), with familiar characters from children’s books by Dahl such as Matilda and The Twits as well as images from classic works such as Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. While the books he has worked on are very different, an unmistakable Quentin Blakean aesthetic can be found where eyes are reduced to dots and noses become beaky triangles; hair is simply straight or curly lines, sticking out of the head like black wire. It’s now almost impossible to think about Dahl’s books without immediately envisioning one of Blake’s creations. The plumes of psychedelically coloured smoke around George as he concocts another batch of his marvellous medicine, or the nest-like heads that belong to the Twits are macabre and exhilarating images that get under the skull.
Blake’s is a now very familiar style, the product of black ink, a dip-pen nib and a vulture’s feather quill, materials that require a certain fearlessness, confidence and an ability to quickly edit and enact simultaneously. As might be expected, most of the drawings are humorous balls of glee, but there is also a sense of threat and sadness at the edges of his compositions. As in real life, adults loom over cowering infants, while crumpled children create alternative realities to escape into.