Quentin Blake talks about the exhibition of his drawings opening in Mayfair this month. Words by Jonathan Whiley.
At 86, Quentin Blake – one of our most successful illustrators and cartoonists – has no plans to put his feet up.
The man whose illustrations captured the magic of Roald Dahl’s imagination has created a new body of work.
His exhibition titled Anthology Of Readers opens at Shapero Rare Books’ Mayfair Gallery on November 29th until December 21st.
It includes 60 pen, ink and watercolour drawings caricaturing people who love books.
What was the inspiration for the new work?
Reading is interesting to me and, as it happens, it is the only thing in which I have a qualification; a Cambridge degree.
But, of course, what is really interesting are the postures that readers get into when they have a book in their hand.
Books have been a big part of your life. Which book has had the biggest influence on you?
I think my main hero was the 19th-century artist Honoré Daumier, who showed that you could do strong and interesting work, even on the pages of a weekly paper.
I was also inspired by [cartoonist] André François. He showed me that you did not have to be well behaved when you were drawing and that was very liberating.
And John Burningham, who is sadly no longer with us. He tells stories but his pictures are also complex improvisations and full of atmosphere.
When did you realise you had a talent for illustration?
I have always wanted to be an artist. But after Cambridge, I actually trained to be an English teacher; I think some sort of education informs a lot of what I do.
I started off as an illustrator working for magazines like Punch and The Spectator. But what I really wanted was to get a sequence of my own illustrations between two covers and to be able to follow a narrative through.
I am still fascinated by the task which goes on offering such a variety of opportunities with David Walliams’ The Boy In The Dress on the one hand, and Voltaire and La Fontaine on the other.
Many of your famous illustrations are tied into the work of Roald Dahl. When did you first meet him?
We were put together by our editor, Tom Maschler at Jonathan Cape, for The Enormous Crocodile. Our first meetings were at the publishers and relatively formal.
But when we got on to The BFG, I started going down to Great Missenden and having dinner with the family when I would probably show some of my ideas about the characters and get Roald’s comments. I liked him.
Do you have a favourite character illustration that featured in those books?
It is hard to have one favourite although the BFG is very sympathetic and I think it may have been Roald’s favourite book. But of course it is also a pleasure to draw people as dirty and spiky as The Twits.
Danny, The Champion Of The World offers a much more naturalistic atmosphere so that the pictures have to look almost as if they were drawn from life.
Anthology Of Readers runs at Shapero Rare Books from November 29 to December 21, at 32 St George Street.
Christie’s online sale, Quentin Blake: Not In Books, comprised of 204 drawings, will take place from December 10-17.