By Justin Prinsloo
Alan Powers, author of Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator, is a refreshing blend of humble and passionate. Over the course of his hour-long slot at the Festival, he spoke solely on the subject of his recent book: Edward Ardizzone, the renowned and highly influential 20th century illustrator responsible for illustrating many highly regarded children’s books that are still popular today. The only time Powers spoke about himself was to correct a comment that named him a ‘biographer.’ He insisted that this was not the case, but that he was an art historian simply capturing in exquisite detail the personal and professional life of one of the UK’s most prominent artists.
Powers relayed these aspects of Ardizzone’s life with a joy that perfectly matched the subject matter, a joy that the crowd in the marquee could not help but share. His deep interest in Ardizzone was contagious and those brought up reading Ardizzone’s books sat captivated by this trip down memory lane, nostalgic grins matching the one that Powers wore at all times. Whether hearing about Ardizzone for the first time or revisiting his influence, one could not help but feel a sort of reverence for the man that to a large extent shaped the narrative of contemporary illustration.
A lot of research went into the making of Powers’ book. He scoured archives and spoke at length with individuals who knew Ardizzone personally in order to draw the most accurate portrait he possibly could of the man. One would be forgiven for believing that Powers knew Ardizzone personally; such is the depth and vividness with which Powers speaks of him. Ardizzone is described as having been a ‘big man’ who ‘worked constantly,’ well-liked by his peers and with a keen attention to detail that informed all of his drawings. His influences, among which include Beatrix Potter, Randolph Caldecott and Constantin Guys, played a large part in his own style, but he was also deeply interested in the way people themselves work and move. This informed his imaginings, which to him were more real than the real world. He worked assiduously, pausing only to observe his quirky routines, such as ceasing his work at exactly 6pm every evening to smoke a cigar before continuing his work again.
It’s details like this that in tandem with one another paint the artist in most gaudy detail. Who better to execute the brush strokes than the cheery art historian that is Alan Powers?
Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator was published in September 2016 and is available for purchase now.