The prompt for the 57th Kick-About is the drawings of painter, illustrator, author, poet and war artist, Mervyn Peake.
Peake was the author and illustrator of the Gormenghast series which has taken on cult status since the publication of the first book Titus Groan in 1946. But for some it’s too dark, daunting. It’s usually classified as a fantasy, but it contains no magic other than the magic of Peake’s imagination.
Peake was also a war artist. He was one of the first civilians to enter the German concentration camp at Belsen in 1945, an experience that had a profound effect upon him. His work was sometimes dark and grotesque. Other times his drawings expressed delicacy and softness, but they always emitted an intensity of personality and his use of light and shadow lifted even the prettiest of subjects far above anything that might be labeled saccharine. And then there are his drawings for his children. I have a copy of The Sunday Books, a collection of spontaneous creations he made on demand for his two small sons. In these, the images are flawed in the most lovely way. They are simply what flowed from his pen in the moment, with no polish, no corrections.
While thinking about Peake, I’ve been thinking about ’caricatures’. I’m not a fan of caricatures. Years ago, when a friend introduced me to someone who had no understanding of book illustration, the person said something along the lines of ’Oh you do caricatures! They are so clever!’ I confess I was horrified to be thought of as a caricaturist. (There’s something weird and fragile going on there, but we’ll leave that for now.) Some of Peake’s book illustrations are precariously close to caricatures if a caricature is something that depicts a person in a grotesque way by exaggerating their features. And yet the sophistication and delicacy of the rendering is undeniable.
And what is the purpose of illustration? It’s not to depict the banal reality of what we can see every day with our own eyes. It’s about expressing a feeling, a mood, an atmosphere. Or sparking a feeling or mood in the reader. And so it follows that a certain amount of well considered exaggeration goes with the territory.
There’s much to explore in response to Peake’s work, and I don’t think I can do it on one hit, so let us see where it takes me. But to begin with, it has taken me back to two mediums I loved in earlier years but have neglected more recently.
Pen and ink. Obviously this is all about the line. But it’s also about embracing a medium that can’t or won’t be fully controlled. I worked pretty small with these and just enjoyed making lots of small doodles. Perhaps some more finished work will come later.
And charcoal or soft pastel. This is less about the line and more about the tone, but really it’s a delicate balance of both. And there’s an element of mystery that comes from the smudgy indistinctness. It feeds the imagination. I haven’t found my mojo again with this quite yet, but I have been enjoying the start of the journey.
Lastly, I did a couple of tiny wash drawings with a touch of pencil detail.
Thanks again, Phil. It has been fun to provide the prompt this time around! x