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It's visual magic

A brilliant exhibition of illustrations for children's literature begins tomorrow

— Photo: R. Ragu

The fare is heady original stuff, rich with vibrant detailing, individualistic to the core, more alive than the smaller reproductions in books.

MAGIC PENCIL is probably one of the more exciting exhibitions to have come to Bangalore over the past decade, courtesy the British Council. The show, which opened at the Laing Art Gallery at Newcastle-on-Tyne in May 2002, has toured over 30 countries since. It opens here at 7 p.m. on February 16, and is accessible from 10.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. from February 17 to March 5 (barring Sundays and March 1 and 2).

Co-curated by Quentin Blake, that celebrated illustrator's illustrator, it showcases a field that we've taken for granted all our lives — that of illustrations for children's literature. His are the drawings we cannot tell apart from Roald Dahl's fabulous tales, his are the quirky visuals that add zing to collections of Ogden Nash's irresistible verse.

Heady mix

For aficionados of children's books, the exhibition is a treat to be savoured over, over and over again, a heady mix of contemporary British creativity, imagination and humour. (I have to confess to visiting it four times at Chennai in December 2004.) The fare is heady original stuff, rich with vibrant detailing, individualistic to the core, more alive than the smaller reproductions in books. Original books are on display, so are multimedia games and animated films. Apart from Blake, the other 12 artists whose work we can delight in at Magic Pencil include Raymond Briggs (When the Wind Blows), Sara Fannelli (First Flight), and Emma Chichester Clark (James and the Giant Peach, 1990). That's besides Angela Barrett, Patrick Benson, Stephen Biesty, John Burningham, Lauren Child, Michael Foreman, Tony Ross, Posy Simmonds and Charlotte Voake. Each is a virtuoso worth celebrating.

Whether birds and beasts, mythological monsters and imaginary lands, reinterpretations of classic tales like Pinocchio or Cinderella, these brilliant talents treat each frame with a unique palette, with dazzling hatching, shading and colouring. Even if we are not aware of who the illustrator is, our visual memory would find these images indelible.

Given the rich history of British book design and illustration, how did Blake set about assembling Magic Pencil? In his introduction, he writes: "When I was a child, though fascinated by drawings, I didn't have the concept of an illustrator. Nowadays, children write to me explaining that it is something they want to be when they grow up, and do I have any tips about how to arrange it?"

Against the backdrop of the raw deal that most Indian illustrators still get, it is worth noting Blake's take: "They may make a living (perhaps a good one), but it is far from guaranteed; they may become popular — and it is fortifying to be brought copies of your books to sign and gratifying at the same time not to be recognised in the streets. (Curious too at public signings to discover that people have been buying your books for years and sometimes even keeping them. It's quite possible, alone at your desk, to believe that the ensuing productions are taken by publishers and booksellers and buried quietly somewhere out of the way)."

Signature notes

But Blake's words are not all that evoke a smile at Magic Pencil. The petulance of a child's smile, frozen for posterity. The toucans, dragons and spaceships that float through the display. The exuberant artistic individuality that brooks no censorship. All these are signature notes that engage each viewer.

Voila! Abracadabra! What could be more enchanting than a freaky, unusual show like this one? Perhaps it will trigger a museum of Indian children's illustrations by Pulak Biswas, Mickey Patel, Tapas Guha and others of their brilliant ilk.

The exhibition is on the British Library premises. Nataka will present readings of Roald Dahl's rhymes at the show on February 16 and 25 at 7 p.m.

ADITI DE

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