Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Mervyn Peake illustrates Treasure Island

I have a confession to make. I have read the Gormenghast books of Mervyn Peake: I wasn't blown away by them. This is almost a heresy in some quarters I know, and on the whole they are quarters where normally I have found myself welcome. So, mea maxima culpa. That said, I have been finding myself of late very drawn to his drawings. A while ago he was being feted across London with something like three or four simultaneous exhibitions but things seem to have quietened a little now. Like all good fantasy, the reason Gormenghast works so well is in it's overarching creation of a world, a world that is believable, comprehensive and coherent in its own terms (I think my problem was that I didn't read them when I was fifteen). Those same qualities are, however, I think apparent in all Peake's artwork. He has a vision of the world and it is populated with contorted grown-ups and gawky adolescents. It is a world-view simply made for use in illustrating Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: which indeed Peake did in 1949. Among many influences was Goya, an influence very clearly at work in the illustrations of this book. The intensely detailed crosshatching and line-work enabled Peake, who had just as good a grasp of the importance of space in illustration as those illustrators before him using solid black and white to demonstrate the same command of it but with more sutblety and luminosity (nowhere better demonstrated than in the image below of sailors watching the sun set). Who better to portray the twisted interiors of Pirates and the scarred innocence of Jack Hawkins?

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