Tuesday, 1 May 2007
A welcome envelope from the States in the post today - the eminent Locus magazine has done a review of Mervyn Peake: the Man and His Art:
'It's always interesting to glimpse the roots of an artist's vision, to see the first stirrings of inspiration and inclination. Mervyn Peake, known primarily as the author of the Gormenghast novels, was an artist first. His early work (at the age of ten) depicted the exotic environs of China, where he was born and lived with his British missionary parents before the family returned to England. An argument could be made that China provided the underpinnings of his unique artistic sensibility, and support for that view can be found in Mervyn Peake: The Man and His Art.
This new book by his son, Sebastian Peake, in collaboration with Alison Eldred, edited by G. Peter Winnington [A long winded list of credits, the result of much amicable discussion. P.O.P.] (author of an acclaimed Peake biography), functions as both a memoir and artistic retrospective. Its premise is that Peake was first and foremost an artist who created thousands of witty expresive drawings, sketches and paintings, and whose service as a war artist during WW2 not only provided a valuable record of the horrors of the concentration camps but personally affected him deeply and permanently. During his lifetime his artistic ability was widely acknowledged. However, after his death, Gormenghast became the lens through which Peake was viewed.
Mervyn Peake . . . should help correct that view. It's packed with artwork, offering a marvelous selection of early sketches, notebook pages, book illustrations, photographs letters, and paintings. Among the illustrations provided are samples for his workfor Treasure Island, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Bleak House and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Even in Peake's earliest sketches, dating from his childhood in China, his skill with line is evident. At age 16 he illustrated a series of Walter De la Mare poems for his own pleasure. The sketches show just how confident and expressive his early work really was. This expressiveness would become a hallmark of his later artwork. In particular, his mature drawings and paintings reveal the artist's skill and humor, frequently verging on caricature and cartoon. In his own advice to young artists in The Craft of the Lead Pencil, Peake writes: 'Do not be afraid to exaggerate in order to convey the real intention of your drawing,'
Handsome, respectful and well organized, this book presents its complex subject in a forthright, affectionate manner, detailing Peake's childhood; his development as an artist, illustrator and writer; his domestic life; his service during WW2; the writing of many works, including the Gormenghast trilogy, followed by his tragic illness - later diagnosed as Parkinson's disease - and, after much suffering, his early death. Peake's unrestrained imagination has influenced a generation of writers. Perhaps with this book, his influence on artists will become equally profound.'
What a corking piece - and one can but share the final sentiment. For a start there's nothing in Children's book sections these days to touch Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor.