Most of us will have read a book by Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne. Whether it was the recognisable gorilla characters across his books, Willy the Champ, Into the Tunnel or My Dad (to name but a few), his illustrations are well-known and widely spread. The name may not ring a bell, but see one image and you remember the stories. Now, Browne’s works are on display in a special exhibition at Leeds City Museum. It may be specifically created for children, but that should not deter anyone; the whole exhibition room is a delight to the eye and is the perfect getaway from essay deadlines and other such responsibilities.
Browne’s artwork – because as individual drawings, this truly is what they are – has been inspired by a number of Surrealist artists, such as Salvador Dali. Looking at the images, the works of Rene Magritte are particularly prominent in my mind; Browne’s bold colours and simplistic settings are very reminiscent of his works. What is wonderful about the drawings is their subtlety: at first glance, the scenes depicted look normal. It is only when taking a second look that you realise their more out-of-place aspects, such as a man who is not painting a fence, but actually the sky above it. The images are simple but gorgeous, and Browne employs colour, space and pattern cleverly in order to draw mood and meaning from each illustration.
There is a nostalgic atmosphere surrounding the exhibition which is wonderful in so many ways: it transports us back to our childhoods and the lessons we were given. We learn that a lot of his books were inspired by his own childhood and family life, particularly the sudden death of his father when Browne was 17. Despite being children’s books, it is inspirational and also incredibly clever how Browne’s messages tap into more ingrained adult behaviours. Because of this, he uses gorillas as characters, both for their likeness to humans and to reflect Browne’s belief that “for all our consciousness and logic, our decisions are dictated by our animal instincts.” Teaching children important life skills such as empathy is important to Browne, and he attempts to tackle such issues through his work to great effect.
The entire exhibition is fantastic in its layout, creating a playground of stories and pictures. They recreate rooms and scenes from these books, too, such as a surreal washing line and street scene. The images themselves completely absorb you into their world, and just like watching a good Disney film, the sense of nostalgia around them is wonderful for the viewer. This exhibition is absolutely beautiful in both its concept and aesthetic, and I would highly recommend it to every student looking for a brief escape from their usual rush.