Thursday, March 13, 2014

'The Adventures of Pinocchio': Ingpen illustrates Collodi's original text

Robert Ingpen

Robert Ingpen is one of Australia’s most successful illustrators and has written and/or illustrated more than 100 books. He was born in 1936 and did most of his growing up as a boy in Geelong. From an early age he was obsessed by stories and says that at times he had trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. Now as a man in his 70s he sets a pace that few could match. He is arguably Australia's greatest children's book illustrator and is one of the best illustrators of our time anywhere in the world. You can read more about the illustrator and his work in my previous 'Author and Illustrator Focus'.

'The Adventures of Pinocchio' by Carlo Collodi, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Walker Books)

This latest book in the Walker Illustrated Classics series is stunning! Ingpen is at the top of his craft in this work. As usual, his illustrations offer extraordinary detail. He uses a variety of media, including watercolour, pencil, and pastel. But whatever the media, the detail is always amazing and at times almost breathtaking. He brings characters to life. Each of the 36 chapters have a double page spread that offers an engaging start to each new chapter in the life of this mischievous puppet. The first double page for chapter 1 shows the carpenter Mastro Cherry in his workshop. You can 'drink' this in for ages before wanting to read on. Fantastic!

What is also wonderful about this volume is the fact that it is based on the original text of Pinocchio published first in 1883 from a collection of separate chapters that appeared previously in an Italian newspaper for children. This is not the Disney form of the story. This is a more 'gritty' tale that will surprise you in places. The original Collodi version portrays a strange topsy-turvy world that hints at Tuscany and where sinister things happen. The young Pinocchio lurches from one problem to another, just surviving on many occasions. In fact, Collodi meant for him to die after chapter 15, but his readers were so outraged that he was forced to continue the story for another 21 chapters and give it a more satisfactory ending for the wooden puppet that becomes a boy.

As with all of the books in this series, the book design is stunning. All have hard covers, think paper and coloured pages throughout in varied soft tones. These are handsome, 'rich' collectors' editions that make you want to read the stories.

Illustrated Classics Series

Walker Books engaged Robert Ingpen to illustrate a series of unabridged classic children's books about 6 years ago. Since then they have produced a series of stunning collectors' books. Every book in the series excels in design and needless to say Ingpen's illustrations add a great deal to each of the classic stories. This is all the more remarkable because there have been many illustrated versions of most classic books; so gaining the attention of new generations of readers isn't easy. However, each of these books make me want to re-read every book, because Ingpen's illustrations help you to discover new things in each of them. It's obvious how much Ingpen loves the books himself given the brilliant way each illustration supports and extends the text without dominating it. The books include:

'Peter Pan and Wendy' (2004) written by J.M. Barrie
'Treasure Island' (2005) written by Robert Louis Stevenson
'The Jungle Book' (2006) written by Rudyard Kipling
'The Wind in the Willows' (2007) written by Kenneth Grahame
'A Christmas carol and A Christmas tree' (2008) written by Charles Dickens
'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' (2009) written by Lewis Carroll
'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' (2010) written by Mark Twain
'The Secret Garden' (2010) written by Frances Hodgson Burnett
'The Night Before Christmas' (2010) written by Clement Moore
'The Owl and the Pussycat: And other Nonsense Rhymes' (2012) written by Edward Lear
'The Adventures of Pinocchio' (2014) written by Carlo Collodi.

All of the books in the series are stunningly designed and illustrated. They stand out on any book stand with quality hardback covers (with individually appropriate embossing), quality stitching, dust jackets that are consistent in design, featuring gold lettering for titles and fonts and design features throughout that are suggestive of classic books that are in some cases over 100 years old. The books ooze quality - you can't help but pick them up.

The illustrations utilise all of Ingpen's strengths, with hardly a double page spread in any of the books without illustrations, and many with more than one. The double page spreads, chapter divisions and inside cover images are of superb quality, and show Ingpen's attention to detail.  All the illustrations have the typical Ingpen fine line detail and wash colours that always give softness to the image. The cover of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' is typical of the design of the books.

His Awards

Robert Ingpen has received many awards.  He was probably first noticed as a great talent when he did the illustrations for Colin Thiele's classic book 'Storm Boy'. This led to a long collaboration with Thiele. His work on 'Storm Boy' won him his first award, 'The Visual Arts Board Prize' presented by The Australia Council for the Arts. The list of awards that followed is significant and recognise his extraordinary skill. As well as the Hans Christian Andersen Medal already mentioned that was awarded in 1986, he was awarded the prestigious Dromkeen Medal for significant contribution to the appreciation and development of children's literature in 1989. He was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts from RMIT in 2005 for contribution to children’s literature and in 2007 he was made a member of the Order of Australia for service to literature.
  • Another indicator of his standing as an illustrator is the significant international exhibitions of his work. These include:
  • A major retrospective exhibition in Taipei, which travelled to other regions of Taiwan for a two-month period (2009). 
  • An exhibition of the original artworks for 'Around the World in 80 Days' was held in London (2009). In 2002 Ingpen had a solo exhibition in Bologna, Italy.
  • In 2002 Ingpen's work also featured in the inaugural exhibition at 'The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art' (Massachusetts).

Complete List of Robert Ingpen's writing and book illustrating can be found in my previous post on the illustrator HERE.

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