Mervyn Peake, the illustrated work
October 4, 2009 to February 14, 2010
Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) is now regarded as a particular writer, celebrated for the Titus series. In his time, his contemporaries appreciated him primarily for his graphic work.
From 1939 and for almost two decades, Peake produced illustrations both for his own work (Captain Slaughterboard; Rhymes without Reason) and for classics (Household Tales by the brothers Grimm; Alice in Wonderland; Treasure Island). His mastery of pen and pencil is unique. His style can be characterized with a disarming economy of tools and with the use of a pure line that allows him to raise volumes vividly. But with cross-hatching and dots Peake could also make his drawings look like engravings, providing the characters and objects he depicted, or the background to them, with rich and varied textures and a wide range of shades. Mervyn Peake showed a fertile imagination, an attraction to the grotesque, but also for the blackness of the human soul. For throughout his life Mervyn Peake walked a razor’s edge as sharp as one of the lines he drew in indian ink: whether in writing or drawing, his pen defined the border between beauty and deformity, the familiar and the strange, and expressed a balancing act between his repulsion and attraction for the human race. It is tempting to compare the comet-like career of Mervyn Peake, the brilliance of his life and the lines of his drawings, with those “lines of flight” dear to Gilles Deleuze (A Thousand Plateaus, 1987) that characterize the trajectory of those who live their lives under the sign of experimentation and liberation.