Illustration in the spotlight

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New museum dedicated to drawing and illustration art fair open in London

Quentin Blake at the House of Illustration, which opened in London with an exhibition of his drawings on 2 July (© David Rose)

Once considered the poorer cousin of fine art, illustration is coming to the fore in London this summer. The House of Illustration, which opened in King’s Cross in north London on 2 July with an exhibition dedicated to one of the UK’s best-loved illustrators, Quentin Blake, is proving popular with adults and children alike. Billed as the world’s first illustration museum, the original plan was to focus solely on Blake, but “quickly broadened out to include all illustration”, according to a spokeswoman for the public gallery.

Instead, the museum opened with a solo show by Blake, “Inside Stories” (until 2 November). It features his characteristic spidery illustrations, including drawings for the children’s classics The Twits and Danny, the Champion of the World, written by Roald Dahl, as well as Blake’s more adult-themed sketches for Voltaire’s Candide.

“Illustration has been one of the most distinctive strands in the history of British art,” Blake told the Independent newspaper. “It’s one of the things that the British are good at—we don’t say that often enough.” An exhibition of works by the British artist Paula Rego and the French caricaturist Honoré Daumier, “Scandal, gossip and other stories”, is due to run from November until March 2015.

Meanwhile, the London Illustration Fair opened its shutters in the Hoxton Arches in east London on 5 July with a two-day Tropicana-themed show. Prints and drawings paid homage to the summer festival vibe, with melons, caipirinhas and palm trees recurring themes.

For its second edition (the first was held at the same venue last December), the organisers invited ten collectives to exhibit, including the creative company JSR Agency, Brothers of the Stripe—a 13-man group of illustrators and designers—and the charity Campaign for Drawing.

Affordability was the byword for the fair, with prices ranging from £3 for a postcard to £1,000 for the most expensive print. Standout works included two sunset hued works on paper by the London graphic designer, Narcsville, priced at £80 each unframed, and a brightly coloured giclée of a circus scene by the London-based Alec Doherty, also priced at £80 unframed.

Sam Bennett, who co-founded the fair with Alastair Eland, says the demand for illustration has exploded in recent years. “Illustration is an inclusive art form; it’s used to tell fairy tales, for global ad campaigns and to animate our walls,” he says. “People visiting the fair love the fun vibe and broad range of work on sale, and almost everyone leaves with a picture.”

Members of the illustration and design collective, Brothers of the Stripe, paint a mural live at the London Illustration Fair

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