Artist and writer go back to nature to explore children’s Lost Words

Dandelion -R Jackie Morris r

Dandelion by Jackie Morris

It’s a sobering fact, quoted in the introduction to a new exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park, that three quarters of British schoolchildren spend less time outdoors than prisoners.

 

And that a survey found that eight – 11 year olds were better able to identify types of Pokemon characters than types of UK wildlife. It’s impossible too not to think of recent news reports about the rise in childhood obesity rates and see how these things like together.

The exhibition The Lost Words is inspired by these findings, and is a collaboration between writer Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris.

And at least you have to get some exercise walking through the beautiful Capability Brown-designed parkland at Compton Verney to see the show.

Macfarlane has written a series of poems each named after a bird, animal or plant and Morris has painted two or three watercolours to go with each. The poems are acrostic – the first letter of each sentence spells out the name of the subject of the poem.

Subjects include bramble, wren, willow, magpie, starling, raven and adder. In most cases there is a beautiful illustration on goldleaf of the creature, then another watercolour of it in motion; there are small birds amongst foliage, two otters circling each other in a pool, a family of kingfishers waiting to be brought food, and a heron in flight, amongst the 50 works. There are also some others, showing the path of the creature for example. In some, there’s a magical, mystical nightime scene.

Morris seems to excel specially at birds, and it’s an attractive, entrancing exhibition, which should send you back into the park to see what you can spot down on the water in particular.

The Wild Washerwomen, Quentin Blake

Also at Compton Verney until December 17 is Quentin Blake – Inside Stories, in which the illustrator explains how he works, and the stories behind some of his best-loved creations. The exhibition includes his own explanations of how he has put together the pictures for stories by writers as varied as Roald Dahl, Michael Rosen and the eighteenth century’s Voltaire (he produced an illustrated version of Candide).

There are initial drawings, and then the fully-completed illustrations on show.

There are more than 140 works on show, including the drawings used in books such as Dahl’s The Twits and BFG, and David Walliams’s The Boy in the Dress. Others, such as The Wild Washerwomen, are less familiar, to me anyway.
The exhibition is sure to delight the many fans of Quentin Blake’s work.

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