ART: ‘The BFG in Pictures’ at the Quentin Blake Gallery, Kings Cross
Written by: Victoria Highfield
Contributor Victoria Highfield took a look inside Quentin Blake’s unique show of rarely seen illustrations at Kings Cross, showcasing Roald Dahl’s most loved characters.
When I approached the House of Illustration Gallery, located in the newly developed arts and cultural hub Granary Square at Kings Cross, I smiled. An appropriately giant sized BFG and dream jar greeted me and gave me a burst of excitement similar to one I experienced when I added the brand new Harry Potter book to my Amazon cart last week. As a working woman on the unforgiving side of 25 it’s becoming less and less often that I get to feel those carefree butterflies and magical moments normally reserved for childhood. I couldn’t wait to tune out of the mundane chores and the hecticness of day to day adult life and step into the crazy world of Blake’s illustrations where anything seems possible.
The House of Illustration is a small but impressive space. It believes itself to be the world’s first public educational art institution dedicated to illustration and members of the public can view fashion designs, political cartoons and advertisements amongst the artworks exhibited. It was first opened in 2014 by the legendary Quentin Blake and showcased an opening inaugural exhibition Inside Stories, which celebrated Blake’s impressive career and featured works from some of our children’s favourite books by the likes of Roald Dahl, Micheal Rosen, David Walliams and Blake’s own Crown.
The House of Illustration now has a permanent Quentin Blake Gallery and is currently in its final weeks of Seven Kinds of Magic, a show which explores varied depictions of magic both in Blake’s own books and other writers. Unlike what is stated on the website, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that not only did my £7 entrance fee give me access to both Quentin Blake exhibitions but an additional, slightly more serious show on picture books from Soviet Russia! Even if Russian history isn’t your bag (I must add I wouldn’t classify it as one of my main interests) then Picture Books from Soviet Russia is definitely worth a look around; an immensely interesting look at pre-revolutionary Russian illustration to the pioneers of Soviet children’s publishing. There haven’t been many cases where I’ve felt something has provided value for money, especially in an expensive capital city like London, however, this was definitely one of them.
Unlike the BFG’s humongous ears, the exhibition space itself is tiny and consists of one intimate yet charming room. Blake’s universal style drawings show his effortless technique and each piece is beautifully framed with a caption written by the illustrator himself (he is the founder and curator after all).
Reading his words and taking in his memorable illustrations – even the unpublished drawings had a sense of familiarity about them – reminded me of visiting an old friend I hadn’t seen for years; you get on with them just as fabulously as when you last met. The captions are also brief and light-hearted and make a pleasant change to the headsets and lengthy scripts at other well-known galleries. It also means you can spend more time looking closely at each of the beautiful illustrations that, although familiar, are equally exciting to look at; who doesn’t want to see the first ever drawings of a snozzcumber!?
Included amongst the 40 original drawings was a how-to guide, previously published in the Guardian, on how to draw the BFG. It included four or five simple steps on how to achieve a BFG like character for the even the most inelegant drawer to follow. Although Blake states this is not how he himself draws the BFG it was yet another loveable touch to the exhibition.
Accompanying the show was a mini interactive workshop for smaller visitors and this was met with keen hands and eager smiles. However, without this hands-on approach, the exhibition would have lacked stimulation for younger audiences. It needed, for example, video visuals or sculpture, something to make this important and beautiful exhibition more accessible for children and crucially something to inspire budding illustrators.
However, for me as an adult, this was everything I needed to relive the magic of Dahl’s mischievous and marvellous tales which Blake clearly shows us through his iconic pictures. You can see that Dahl and Blake go hand-in-hand in depicting a story that has enchanted generations of children and adults and I would encourage all ages to pay a visit.
Don’t miss out on the delightful gift shop (it’s hard to miss as you actually pass through it on the way into the exhibition) as this in itself is a work of art. Although it’s worth noting that including the gift shop as an almost integral part of the exhibition does hint at the commercialisation/capitalist nature of the art world. Banksy suggests this in his docu-film Exit via the gift shop; you can’t leave any other way therefore influencing you to buy the £20 program that you will never look at again! True to form I left with a stunning limited edition copy of the BFG, yet for me, this really did heighten my experience. I was taking home a piece of my childhood and my future with Dahl’s famous words ringing in my ears,
The BFG in Pictures is at the House of Illustration Gallery, Granary Square, Kings Cross until 2nd October ’16. The gallery is closed on Mondays and last admission is 5.30pm.
Currently showing at Camden People’s Theatre, performance artist Tom Marshman’s play Kings Cross (Remix) is a glorious celebration of a bygone era. The show is a tightly crafted journey through the stories of some of the people who made up the 1980s Kings Cross LGBTQ scene. Bursting with warmth, charm and affection, the play is a must see for anyone interested in learning more about London’s alternative history.
The Londoner behind 'Strong and Stable My Arse'. It’s a simple message. A slogan that’s straight to the point. 'Strong and Stable My Arse’ is a statement everyone can understand with a wry grin as they spot it slathered onto billboards, phone boxes and brick walls around the UK. So who could possibly be behind such a simple, cheeky, dig in the ribs campaign? Someone who knows his audience, who knows the mindset of the British like the back of his left hand.
For some, a second bank holiday brings with it an extra day of anxiety as you wonder how to fill the 24 hour void that desk bound coffee fuelled typing usually fills. If you’re not content to lie horizontal letting gravity slide pizza down your throat, here’s our plans for your second Bank Holiday of the month.
“Only last night I found myself lost / by the station called King's Cross. / Dead and wounded on either side / you know it's only a matter of time.” [Pet Shop Boys - Kings Cross] It’s the night after the play and I’m standing at the bar of ‘The Big Chill House’ on Pentonville Road in Kings Cross. It’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ (#TBT) and happy hour is definitely over.
Ceramics with charisma. Local pottery genius, Laura Bird has of course graced the digital pages of It’s Nice That, sold out in Anthropologie* and taken her seat at many a London ceramics stall since just recently starting her career in ceramics. It’s no surprise she is well loved: her unique and gentle humour exudes from every jar, planter and candlestick holder, adorned with cheeky expressions and impish grins.
Having worked in hospitality with a keen artist’s eye, the Arts Building knew Emma was perfect to take over the space. They were after a morning to night eatery for the neighbourhood, one for local residents and workers alike. Knowing the street’s reputation as a bit of a foodie strip, the menu had to be up to scratch for it’s discerning super-taster of a community. Yes, we’re a hungry bunch in Stroud Green.
At the time of writing this the menu has just been released for Food by Feast’s new supper club. I imagine, however, that by the time you read this every dining space will be swiftly filled. If you aren’t acquainted with the duo yet (tsk), they’re the genius collaboration of Cordon Bleu chef and food writer Olivia Potts and Guardian food writer and cook, Kate Young. Having successfully completed the likes of a Gilmore Girls supper club to rapturous applause and smacking lips recently, the latest menu experience is Twin Peaks inspired and looks equally witty and delectable.
Sound healing in Stoke Newington. This Thursday 18th May, The Mystery School of Sound are running a de-stress gong bath experience in Stoke Newington Ramadan Mosque. Alongside guided meditation, healing process and gong performace, you’ll get a mini intro to healing traditions of the druids and hermetic teaching.
Patron Cave a Manger’s pop up cinema are shacking up at The Rose and Crown in Kentish Town to screen The Artist. Soak up the atmoshpere of the Festival du Cannes with swanky popcorn and elegant cocktails. Get red carpet ready for this special screening of The Artist - the ridiculously popular award winning silent French film that everyone fell in love with.
Unfortunately rising rents are affecting community spaces in Stoke Newington and their availability. St Mary’s Centre currently provides a space for projects including the Foodbank, Hackney Migrants centre and the Night Shelter but they're at risk of losing their space. To help raise funds to redevelop the space and increase awareness, they are organising a weekend food market in Stokey. The pop-up food market is a launch event for their huge fundraising drive to rebuild the community rooms attached to St Mary's Church in Stoke Newington.
Healthy chocolate mousse and sexing up your smoothie with Kate Oates. We have found ourselves a yoga guru in Kate Oates, a healthtastic yogi based in Crouch End. When we met her last year she hinted at a few of her own culinary creations and boy were we intrigued. Asking for an exclusive recipe for you health conscious readers, we received a taste sensation of an idea for chocolate breakfast.
“All My Single Cylinders, All My Single Cylinders”. Two girls, sick to the back teeth of Tindering and Bumbling about the bars of London, decided to create their own speed dating night. Involved in the biker community of East London they have created a special series of nights combining live music, motorbikes and speed dates. Bolt Motorbike Shop of Stoke Newington is their latest venue, providing a more intriguing backdrop for your date night and quashing the usual awkwardness of sparse, brightly lit speed dating scenarios. You can admire the motors, enjoy your free drinks and listen to some live music with some top notch handpicked company.
In case you’ve never had a piirakka, (also known as Karelian pasties, pies or pirogs) they’re a delicious Finnish treat that you need to try immediately. Whether savoury or sweet, they’re basically a light pastie made with rye flour and a pretty unique variety of filling options. Meet Aapo Nieminen, a native Finnish local who grew up with piirakka. After getting tired of asking friends and family to bring him these naughty little pasties whenever they visited he came up with a plan. “They are an important part of everyday finish life. One day I thought why not just make them yourself?”
The lycra is optional. Coffee however, isn't. On Friday 197 cyclists descended on Sardinia to compete in the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia. For those of you that don't have wardrobes filled with lycra you might never of heard of it but Think Tour d'France but in Italy. Still drawing a blank?
Naked Dough have appeared like a pair of beautiful fairy godmothers to lead me to an actual edible cookie dough dance party. Plus they didn’t even tell me what I should wear, they genuinely don’t care. Naked Dough is a new restaurant serving edible cookie dough from tubs, cones and even carry home pots. The ingredients are raw egg free and the flour is heat-treated so you need not worry-like-Edwina-Currie about salmonella and stomach bloat (unless you’re gluten free of course. In which case I’m sorry you’ve stumbled upon this torture page of an article).
Ten years ago MINT Vintage first opened in Covent Garden before moving on to the more creative surrounds of Stoke Newington, pioneering fashion forward vintage. Every piece is hand selected and sourced from all over the world, ensuring every garment is trend driven but timeless and always unique. This May they’ve decided to transform their world in to an “oops we were trying to make corduroy and came up with denim” dreamland*.