‘A BFG that might have been’

by Beth Wiffen

Remember when you used to curl up in bed with the best book you had ever read?   Remember when you were so immersed in a book that you could almost see the characters coming to life on the page?  York Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, ‘The BFG in Pictures’, creates a place in which the characters from Roald Dahl’s BFG do come to life.

The travelling exhibition from the London House of Illustration showcases unseen illustrations by Quentin Blake, and tells the story of his collaboration with Roald Dahl.  ‘The BFG in Pictures’ shows the progression of the illustrations, from the first sketch to the final version in the book, with artwork created for special occasions in Dahl’s life.  The exhibition gives viewers a peek into the influence an illustrator has on audiences and our imaginations. Blake explains that he added extra things into his drawings, like the BFG bumping into a chandelier in Buckingham Palace, to emphasise how everyone imagines something different when reading the book.  

As these are illustrations, putting them in an art gallery changes the intended purpose of the drawings, and the intended audience.  In an art gallery, the illustrations turn into pieces of art, rather than whimsical drawings, showing Blakes transition from an illustrator to a curator.  The exhibition itself challenges what ‘art’ really is, letting viewers into the world of an illustrator, so they can see the hours that go into creating something which manages to look eminently simple.  


Unpublished drawing from the 1st version of The BFG. © Quentin Blake, .

In an interview with co-curator Olivia Ahmad, I asked if she believed there was a difference between an author picking illustrations for a novel, and a curator picking artworks for an exhibition.  

She argued ‘Curating an exhibition is a storytelling process, you select works and add interpretive texts and film etc to convey particular ideas, but it is different to commissioning illustrations for a book’  

The BFG in Pictures creates a new story from a children’s classic.  By showing unseen and unpublished drawings it tells a new story and engages a whole new audience.


The BFG in Buckingham Palace garden, from ‘The BFG’ colour edition (Puffin Books, 2015) © Quentin Blake, .

Having a travelling exhibition in York Art Gallery allows the local community to experience these fantastic illustrations first hand.   York as a city provides a fantastical blend of the historic and the modern, showing the magical and the mundane.  I can think of no better place for the BFG to have a temporary home.  The interactive elements in the gallery let you immerse yourself in this magical world and see your childhood dreams come to life.  Blake’s illustrations inspired our imaginations as children.  Now, let him inspire you again as an adult with this enthralling exhibition.

You can read the full interview with Olivia Ahmad here, and also listen to an interview with Fiona Green (curator at York Art Gallery) here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s