It’s been a dark time in Britain, shadowed by the terrorist attacks and the terrible apartment block fire. Hard to write about having fun, yet getting on with ordinary life, even enjoying it, has become part of the mood of defiance. And for many people, the artist Quentin Blake sums up fun, delighting in the odd and the ordinary. His new “Quentin Blake: The Life of Birds,” drawn from the archive held by the House of Illustration in London, is a tiny exhibition, but one of pure, quirky joy. Blake is best known as an illustrator of children’s books, including most of Roald Dahl’s, but he is also the creator of vivid, funny, scratchy images that brighten the walls of schools and hospitals, challenging fear and stress. His work is always different yet immediately recognizable, with its elongated, arm-waving and leg-tangling figures, young and old, perching and jumping, singing and playing, causing chaos in their own ebullient way.
His people often lounge around in trees. They have an affinity with birds, as Blake himself noticed some time ago. “If I fossick deep enough in my plan chest drawers,” he writes, “I can come across a few old drawings of birds behaving rather like humans. Some of them wear robes, and perhaps might be retired barristers or writers. I am not quite sure when they developed into a separate race of beings, parallel to ourselves and pursuing all our activities.” From this recognition came his 2005 book The Life of Birds (translated into French with the neat title Nous les Oiseaux). Several of the drawings on show at the House of Illustration were made for this book, now sadly out of print, and here they join others, with birds—of no species known to naturalists—performing like actors “able to deal with all sorts of human situations.” They are sociable creatures, Blake’s birds, and in two images they gather at a cocktail party, wearing their robes like a flight of academics, patient listeners and pompous bores, eager questioners and shy resisters. One can almost hear the chatter.
Read more at The New York Review of Books.