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Quentin Blake’s The Photo: life’s disappointments in microcosm

Blake’s birds have a lightly worn pathos
Flappy snaps ... Blake’s birds have a lightly worn pathos. Photograph: Quentin Blake

Feelgood factor

Thanks to his work with Roald Dahl, the illustrations of Quentin Blake are so well known that it’s easy to take them for granted. We all recognise the scratchy, loose, improvised lines and the good-natured mood. Yet his work’s range can be surprising.

Bird brain

The Photo, from the artist’s unpublished personal collection, is one of many images he’s created of birds. According to Blake, our feathered friends are “a kind of illimitable repertory company able to deal with all sorts of human situations”.

Haven’t we met before?

Like all great cartoons, The Photo seems to sum up something fundamental that we know about our fellow travellers. Yet while this scene suggests a stereotype – tourists on holiday – it’s also open-ended enough to set our imaginations to work.

Life lessons

The parents have bodies on which life’s disappointments and struggles are gently written, her slumped shoulders and shapeless clothes, his ungainly skinniness. The son combines their physical qualities in a soft echo of Larkin’s famous line about what your mum and dad bequeath to you. Its pathos is startling, yet lightly worn.

Part of Quentin Blake: The Life of Birds, House of Illustration, N1, to 1 October

This article titled "Quentin Blake’s The Photo: life’s disappointments in microcosm" was written by Skye Sherwin, for The Guardian on Friday 11 August 2017 11.00am

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