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Jerwood Gallery's new exhibition shows Sir Quentin Blake in a productive mode
The Only Way to Travel, 2016. © Quentin Blake.

HASTINGS.- Sir Quentin Blake is an artist and illustrator who needs little introduction. Such is his relationship with the British public that his work is as familiar as Marks & Spencer, Rolls Royce or Fox’s Glacier Mints. Instantly recognisable, quintessentially British – and undoubted national treasure. As adults, countless millions of us grew up with Blake’s work, while current and future generations will continue to do so.

We think we know the work of Sir Quentin Blake. Well, Jerwood Gallery’s new show will certainly challenge that.

Invited by gallery Director Liz Gilmore to explore themes that concern him, Sir Quentin’s new exhibition at the Hastings gallery reveals his thoughts on mental health, the squeezing of creativity and the refugee crisis.

“He is an astonishing artists and draughtsman, with a unique style” says Gilmore. “Jerwood Gallery is renowned for championing the artistic spirit and allowing artists to have creative freedom. Following this tradition, seen most recently in our Keith Tyson and our crowd funded Paula Rego exhibitions; we were keen to ask Sir Quentin to create an equally ambitious show – of ‘serious art’.”

Consequently, The Only Way To Travel takes visitors on a journey through modern life and the creative mind. Featuring extraordinary beasts, machines or bizarre, narrative scenes, Blake discovers themes such as people dislocated from their homes, loneliness, and depression, as well as energy and enthusiasm.

Jerwood Gallery wanted to give Blake the opportunity to explore these issues. The resultant pictures are often serious but, in typical Blake fashion, are far from gloomy. He takes the viewer on a drawing journey, with images ranging from the size of a post card to a huge, 12’ by 9’ mural, which Blake will use a cherry picker to make in situ at the gallery.

The Only Way To Travel is the 84 year old artist’s biggest ever UK show and will bring 100 pieces to Jerwood Gallery’s ground floor. It will feature clusters of new works inspired by the breadth of this exhibition’s brief.

“The hugely exciting aspect of this show is that Sir Quentin has produced this body of work that has not been constrained by the dictates of a specific commission,” Gilmore observes.

We often come to Blake through his work as an illustrator for the likes of Michael Rosen or Roald Dahl but in The Only Way To Travel we can enjoy and experience him in a new way. What visitors will see are the very real concerns and subjects that Blake is passionate about and wants to share, albeit that the style remains inimitably and unmistakeably his.

Commenting on the prospect of creating several huge pictures, Blake says: “It was very exciting for me when Liz Gilmore invited me to produce very large drawings – as large as possible – to hang in the Foreshore Gallery. I thought ‘What a wonderful opportunity – why shouldn’t drawings be as large as oil paintings?’

These big drawings will be very spontaneous, as I don’t have any way of preparing them beforehand (except perhaps in my head). They are improvised on the paper and there is really little chance of revising or correcting them, either. But it’s that element of risk that is part of the appeal; in that respect it’s in some ways like a performance. You see everything that happens.”

“Another stimulus is that, at this scale, you have to rethink the drawing materials. What you thought was a big pencil suddenly looks quite small. Many of the drawings are done with large brushes, and several with commercial decorator’s paint rollers or an ink dispenser. I’ve used things that are inexpensive and fun to use.”

“I chose the title because it gives me the opportunity of doing a number of different kinds of pictures on related themes. Many are comic fantasy, some are more decorative and others have a suggestion of metaphorical significance, which allows me to explore human situations and feelings. I thought also that the idea of ways of travelling was something that almost anyone of any age might relate to, and help to lead them into the pictures.”

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