The exhibition, which opens at the House of Illustration in London on May 5, is curated by Blake himself and is the first to focus on his collection of personal drawings of birds.
“I have always liked drawing birds,” says the illustrator. “I can’t quite explain why but it may be because like us, they are on two legs and have expressive gestures. It’s a way of commenting on the people we see around us without actually drawing individuals.”
Many of the drawings in the exhibition were included in Blake’s 2005 collection The Life of Birds, while the show will also feature works created since that time, alongside illustrations for Le Figaro newspaper’s literary supplement, Figaro Litteraire.
In his introduction to the The Life of Birds book, the late illustrator Peter Campbell remarked that while Blake’s work linked back to illustrators such as JJ Grandville and Edward Lear – and the fables written by Aesop and La Fontaine – his own avian creations were “more like novelists’ characters than moralist’s examples.
“Like Daumier, he creates individuals who are examples of, but not reduced to, types,” Campbell noted. “The drawings are, by turns, insidiously charming, absurdly sad and fiercely observant. They suggest feelings about getting old, about the life of art, about the insufferability of silly people and the unpleasantness of bullies.”
This is a rare chance to see a selection of original drawings by Blake and enjoy a tightly-focused exhibition dedicated to one of his most rewarding subjects.
Quentin Blake: The Life of Birds is at the House of Illustration, 2 Granary Square, London N1C 4BH from May 5 until October 1. More at houseofillustration.org.uk