So set for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I was delighted to discover plenty of gems, including initial illustrations of the BFG, his friend Sophie, and models of snozzcumbers and dreamcatchers in the BFG’s model cave. Everyone has their favourite Roald Dahl story, many of them read time and time again as a child, until our parents were blue in the face! Whether it be Matilda, James and the Giant Peach or Esio Trot among many others, the BFG is definitely up there for me so this was a treat! There were also plenty of other familiar characters to spot, among them the scary witch from The Twits and Charlie Bucket’s grandparents lined up in their big bed. What was fascinating, and for me added another dimension to the exhibition, was the showing of a film following Quentin Blake carry out his work in his studio. It’s curious and almost surreal stepping into this world as an adult, coming face-to-face with original work by Blake. One can’t help but marvel, with the knowledge that these magical illustrations have touched millions of childrens imaginations and continue to all of the time. His naïve style is especially striking, immediately recognisable with its scribbley lines and splashes of watercolour. He manages to create images that are spontaneous and disorderly, as if he’s drawn them extremely quickly, but at the same time are perfect without a line feeling out of place. The result is wild, yet enchanting at the same time. I love Blake’s style, with his carefree illustrations perfectly embodying Dahl’s characters and their expressions, from the totally bizarre to damnright abominable.
I can imagine that illustrating Dahl’s stories, bristling with neology and make-believe, and creating a visual identity was not always an easy job for Blake, however it certainly feels like it would have been an adventure full of fun. This is highlighted when he struggled to visualize what the BFG would wear on his feet, so Dahl sent him a package to re-instil some inspiration. In a quote from the culture 24 website Blake recalls: "I received through the post a rather oddly-shaped and oddly-wrapped brown paper parcel. Unwrapping it revealed a large sandal of a type unfamiliar to me. I soon discovered that it was Norwegian and one of Roald's own. It is what the BFG wears." The original Norwegian sandal also featured in the exhibition. I think that ultimately it is the successful capturing of the essence and humour of Dahl’s writing in the illustrations that makes the duos work so powerful and really allows you to jump head first into their vividly animated, imaginary world. The illustration of children’s fiction is always a wondrous thing, however this particular partnership between Dahl and Blake is clearly something extra special. With so much excellent work to chose from the V&A did a great job in whittling it down to a captivating and succinct exhibition. Here are some of the characters featured below: