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Review: Quentin Blake & John Yeoman: 50 Years of Children’s Books at Lady Lever Art Gallery

Review: Quentin Blake & John Yeoman: 50 Years of Children’s Books at Lady Lever Art Gallery

Words, Kathryn Wainwright

The Lady Lever is currently host to a must see collection of collaborative work spanning 50 years by two of Britain’s most beloved literary figures.

Everyone must surely be familiar with either the well-loved titles by John Yeoman, or the iconic illustrations of Quentin Blake, but this exhibition tells a story of their long collaborative career together and just how well it worked. Whether you know the tales from your childhood, or you have read them to your children, this exhibition is definitely one for the whole family, and anyone else tagging along.

From the conception of their partnership, when Quentin Blake asked John Yeoman to write a book for him to illustrate, A Drink of Water, to their most recent project together, All The Year Round, this exhibition shows original artwork and features everything from short novels to classic folktales. What better place to see it than the ever beautiful Lady Lever in Port Sunlight.

The instantly recognisable work of Quentin Blake will always capture the imaginations of both young and old. His illustrations are integral to the books he works with. They complement the narrative unlike any other artist, becoming as important to the readers’ experience as the text, which is evident in his other career-long collaborations with icons like Roald Dahl, David Walliams and Joan Aiken. But the intricate stories and magical worlds created by Blake and Yeoman are a testament to the friendship behind the success; they stand the test of time, as many of these books are now being re-published with Anderson Press for a new generation of book lovers.

A mixed flock of birds – turkeys, herons, crows – all holding onto the strings of colourful balloons flying high through the air. A smartly dressed man, balancing 19 bananas on his nose and holding a bunch more in each hand. A little boy with a snake for a scarf, alongside a lady carrying an enormous stack of pots, topped with a startled looking bunny rabbit.

The Fabulous Foskett Family Circus, Quentin Blake

This is a recipe for a sparked imagination, and just a handful of the masterpieces of quirky storytelling on show.

We are increasingly aware of how long children can be absorbed by screens. I defy anyone not to be absorbed by this wacky array of characters and plot lines.
With walls filled in with illustrations and excerpts, between the framed work, there is no time to lose your attention. The images almost come to life, they have that trademark quality that invites you to look closer and see what else you might discover crawling from frame to frame.

John Yeoman’s stories may be aimed at the young, by gently teaching them about the world and introducing ideas that may stump other authors, for fear of overwhelming the audience, but the author and adult reader have a direct line of understanding; this grounds you, and puts you in the headspace of a child, which is a lovely place to be. The illustrations help the reader embroider the story with their own detail and movement, but also give the younger reader space for thought and contemplation.

School friends that shared an artistic career that has lasted more than half a century, Yeoman and Blake’s exhibition features more than 40 works of illustration and books. A brilliant celebration of literature and art, perfectly combined.

This is a touring exhibition running until 3rd March 2019 at Lady Lever Art Gallery
Words, Kathryn Wainwright