Monday 26 June 2023

The Raymond Briggs Exhibition, by Pippa Goodhart



I’ve just visited the Raymond Briggs retrospective exhibition currently (until 26th August ’23) running at Cambridge University Library. It’s free entry, and an absolute treat. I was told that I could photograph everything except the Snowman artwork which, in soft crayon, is more vulnerable than most of his work. So I’ll share just some of what I particularly enjoyed there.


            Raymond Briggs, who died last year, was the only child of milkman Ernest and housewife Ethel whose lives from courtship to death Raymond recorded in loving and humorous cartoon form. This was their reaction when their grammar school son decided to leave that school at fifteen to study art –

            The art school weren’t impressed with his idea of working on cartoons. Yet the cartoon style was to became the basis of his most famous books, from Snowman to Fungus The Bogeyman. 

    But Raymond Briggs could do classical style as well, and sublimely. Look at this from Gentleman Jim, an exhibit in the gallery where he is a cleaner –



Or this brilliant early line drawing of an ordinary spoon –

            Early illustration work was of the more traditional kind, before he had the self-belief, and/or the belief of publishers, to be more original and bold.



One of the fascinations of the exhibition is that we get to see Raymond Briggs’ working techniques. He tends to record the days, and even hours, spent on artwork in the margin. And he likes to get his pen flowing by squiggling in those margins before setting it to work on the picture! This is from When The Wind Blows –


            In early work he uses Tipex, seemingly not just to correct but (I’m no artist, so I’m guessing!) also to get some shadowing effect.

            And we read notes presumably written by his editor. I liked this one! –

            In his work we have a mix of picture books inspired by the children in his life – Ug, Bear, The Puddleman, for example – and the furious angry political books about the pointless destruction of war, nuclear or conventional. Briggs compares Tin-Pot Foreign General Galtieri and Old Iron Woman Margaret Thatcher to Punch and Judy as they played out the Falklands War with the lives of others in 1982. That book is illustrated with huge furious energy and clarity, and with searing brightness. You really need to see them for yourselves because reproductions in books or in photographs just don’t convey the power of their colours as well as their lines. 

            And there’s so much more. Go and see it if you can! Meanwhile,  ‘Goodnight’ from Father Christmas over Buckingham Palace. 



I’m off to read my two year old grandson The Elephant and the Bad Baby … although I’m with Raymond Briggs on questioning why the Baby is ‘bad’ for not saying ‘please’ whilst the Elephant is in no trouble for stealing things! 


Michael White said...

Fantastic and educational blog!
Take My Exam For Me

Natascha Biebow said...

Love it, thanks for sharing, Pippa! Am particularly intrigued by the editor's notes and time-keeping by side of each piece. Fascinating.