05 May 2017

“I have always liked drawing birds. 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.” (Quentin Blake)

This exhibition, curated by Quentin Blake himself, is the first ever to examine a theme that has intrigued him throughout his career – birds.

It shows a series of original drawings from his personal archive of birds in everyday situations, revealing a kindly but penetrating commentary on the human condition. The subtleties of the birds’ interactions show Blake’s mastery of conveying emotion through expression and gesture, a hallmark of his illustrations.

Many of the works on show were published in Blake’s 2005 book The Life of Birds. The exhibition includes unpublished drawings created since 2005 in the same series; together with illustrations for 'Figaro Litteraire', the weekly literary supplement to French daily newspaper 'Le Figaro'; and selections from a set of birds flocking exclusively to the Barbican (drawn for a pillar in the Director's office in 2011.)  A full catalogue of the works on show is available to buy from the House of Illustration shop.

In the introduction to the original The Life of Birds book illustrator Peter Campbell commented:

“These pictures are the product of half a century spent bringing characters to life on the page.  In The Life of Birds Blake follows the path of great illustrators – Grandville and Lear – and fabulists – Aesop and La Fontaine. Blake’s birds are more like novelists’ characters than moralist’s examples. Like Daumier, he creates individuals who are examples of, but not reduced to, types. 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.”

The Quentin Blake Gallery at House of Illustration is the only place in the world to show a continuous but changing exhibition of Blake’s work, exploring his archive of over 35,000 drawings, many of which have never been publicly displayed. It offers a unique insight into the artistic practice of one of the world’s defining illustrators.

For tickets and opening times, visit the House of Illustration website.  The exhibition runs 5 May - 1 October 2017.