Sunday, May 24, 2015

Book Illustrators Gallery Launch

Last Saturday I attended the launch of the Book Illustrators Gallery aka BIG at the National Library, which is the first  BIG (pardon the pun) event leading up to the annual Asian Festival of Children's Content. 

At the inaugural launch of BIG back in 2011, around 30 illustrations were featured.  But this year illustrators from Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Korea, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Kingdom submitted  their works for consideration.  Out of the 150 entries, 103 were eventually selected for inclusion for the BIG.   It's really encouraging to see so many talented illustrators from around the world who are interested in having their artwork displayed at the BIG during the AFCC!

Book Council Ex-Co Member Koh Juat Muay and Gallery Curator Susanna Goho

One of the featured illustrators was my friend, Dave Liew and I convinced him to pose for a quick snap with his illustrations right before the launch. Oh, before I forget, my genius illustrator Soefara also has an illustration on display. 

David Liew

This year renown and popular illustrator Lee Kow Fong spoke about his journey as an illustrator.  He told the audience that it's never too late to start illustrating as he went for an illustration course  in the United Kingdom at the age of 39! I have to say that's very inspiriting  and there's still hope for me. In fact, I may just
follow suit even though I'm only 31 +++++++......

Lee Kow Fong

Next, Festival Director and Deputy Director of the National Book Development Council of Singapore, Kenneth Quek, delivered his opening address before presenting guest-of-honour, Venka Purushothaman, with  a  token of appreciation from gallery curator Susanna Goho.

Kenneth addresses the guests

Kenneth Quek,  Venka Purushothaman, and Susana Goho-Quek 
After the official launch, I managed to catch up with the guest-of- honour, Venka Purushothaman, Provost of Lasalle College of the Arts, to ask him about his thoughts on picture book illustrations.

What are your thoughts on children’s picture book illustrations?

Picture books, in terms of illustrations, are highly developed with much scope to grow. What I see is a lot of really in-depth reflection and reflexivity that’s emerging amongst young designers, illustrators and storytellers.  It’s something we should develop as a community of practice. With picture books people might look at the illustrations as images that inherently support the story.  But, in actual fact, illustrations have a whole ecology and economy of ways of telling stories and they have their own vocabulary, so I think it’s very important for us to celebrate that field and very specifically find ways to build discourse around it. Events like BIG (Book Illustrators Gallery) help build discourse. It’s not just about the images but what they really mean and how do they deepen our understanding of the world around us. So I think it’s a very significant area to be developed extensively through a community of practice.

Can you remember your first picture book?

Not really. I was a child who grew up on Mad Magazine. I was a child of the 70s. [At that time]  It was very much about the Walt Disney and Hanna Barbera way of illustrating  [cartoons] that influenced every young person through the medium of television. Television was the ‘book’ from which we loved to understand illustration. Having said that, the segue-way into the literary world is a very different aspect of it. In a sense the field of illustration and picture books were very divorced from each other. Things were illustrated in order to teach something. While the picture books are able to tell the story without the words. Of course there are historians who say that this links into cave paintings and whole structure of storytelling. In contemporary medium you have books, television and radio that tell stories in different ways.

Does Lasalle have a course on picture book illustration?

We actually do. We don’t teach it as a full course but we do have image and illustration [modules] on several fronts. First of all in Lasalle, the designers have to do storytelling through image making. Everything in art and design is about a story. But how do you express it? We have students who partner with art therapy students and they have created books just for the  therapeutic world. In the fine art world, we have been working with the medical sector with medical illustrations. Storytelling is a massively big part of the college and we believe that art and storytelling is not divorced.

What do you think of the illustrations you see here in Singapore?

The Singapore illustrations are phenomenal and there’s a lot of raw energy emerging and it requires a lot more mentorship and guidance and referencing to other international illustrators and people who have established practices.

Thank you, Mr Purushothaman.

Now, if you'd like to check out the Book Illustrators Gallery, head on down to the National Library. The exhibition runs until the 11th of June.

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