Quentin Blake

Drawing Board

On December 16, Quentin Blake will turn 80, his illustrious career as an artist and illustrator having begun in the pages of Punch in 1948-the year of London’s last Olympic Games. If this was truly a year of celebrating Britain, one could not do much better than end it with Quentin Blake. Yet the work on display at Marlborough Fine Art in London from December 12 is not a retrospective but a bold, new departure for the artist and his enduring genius.

“It’s about five or six ways of doing things,” Blake says of the exhibition, which ranges from lithography to watercolour. The pieces are also very recent, having been painted, sketched or etched in the past year. None of them is an interpretation of a literary work.

As these are stand-alone pictures, not illustrations, Blake says that lithographs such as Girl and Dog II (bottom left) are at their root an invitation to the observer to speculate about them. “They seem to be doing art and they seem to be doing it in some rather desolate, bombed-out townscape,” he explains, “but you don’t quite know whether the dogs are protecting them or whether they are threatening them . . . it might not be about art at all.”

It can be difficult to distance oneself from the legacy of Blake, and each image does speak as an illustration should, pulling the viewer into narratives joyous, banal and melancholy. None of this is surprising-communicating difficult truths is the task of any children’s illustrator-but it is cheering to experience it from a man who knows humanity’s nuances so thoroughly and who delights in mastering such a variety of mediums.

“There is story in them,” Blake concedes of his work, but it will most likely be your own.