‘Let us sharpen our wits and pencils and make sure that what we write and paint will, on the wings of books, fly the child into a world of joy and wonder and imagination and thus help produce a happier and more peaceful world.’ Brian Wildsmith
Brian Wildsmith (1930 -2016) was one of a small group of picture book artists who had a huge impact on children’s book illustration during the 1960s. ‘This explosion …’ wrote Joyce Irene Whalley and Tessa Rose Chester in A History of Children’s Book Illustrators (1988), ‘centred around Brian Wildsmith’s ABC, which glowed in colours never seen before.’ This wordless picture book won the Kate Greenaway Award in 1962, and it is the illustrator’s use of vibrant colour that is being celebrated in ‘Wild About Colour’, an exhibition at The Story Museum in Oxford. Wildsmith was most prolific during the 1960s, but his artwork has a timeless quality and appeal, and it is a joy to be able to see the glowing colours and exquisite detail of his original illustrations really close up.
Even the room that the exhibition is housed in is bathed in jewel-like colours and the related work sheets encourage young visitors to look closely at the use of colour and spot different coloured objects in the pictures. And in a small room set aside for children to draw in and write their responses to the exhibition, there is a step by step guide to drawing a roar (Wildsmith was famous for his colourful lions) and a box for posting messages to Wildsmith’s family.
Many of the works on show feature animals, which makes a nice link to the Animal exhibition on the floor above.
It is also fitting that the exhibition is being held in the home town of Wildsmith’s main publisher, Oxford University Press. Throughout August there are story sessions and events at the museum, including workshops run by illustrators Paul Strickland and Jane Ray. See here for further details.
There is also a collection of work by twelve other illustrators which celebrates the magic of colour – all ‘masters of the use of colour to create visual feasts for their lucky readers’ – including Emma Chichester Clark, Michael Foreman, David McKee and Shaun Tan. Brian Wildsmith is quoted as saying: ‘Colour is like sound … When different colours are arranged in a specific sequence they can be very lovely, just as different sounds orchestrated in a specific way can be lovely. But it is the use of discord in colour and sound that makes for magic.’