Peake performance

An exhibition of classic book illustrations by Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) is being held at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery to commemorate the centenary of his birth (until July 17).

Sunday, 12th June 2011, 12:13 pm

Most famous for his best-selling Gormenghast series of Gothic fantasies, Peake - who is buried near Arundel - was regarded as one of the most multi-talented artists of the 20th century.

Painter, novelist, author of children’s books and nonsense verse, war artist, poet and dramatist, he also illustrated classic works such as Treasure Island and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of Titus Awakes, the ‘lost’ final part of the Gormenghast sequence which was completed by Peake’s widow after his death and

recently discovered by his granddaughter

Born in Kuling, Central China, Peake later lived for a time with his family in Burpham where he is now buried, alongside his wife, Maeve Gilmore.

Gallery spokeswoman Emma Robertson said: “The landscape of the Downs and countryside of the area was a rich source of creative inspiration for Peake. The titular castle of

Gormenghast, which he both wrote and illustrated, is loosely based on the famous Arundel landmark.

“In his first published novel, Titus Groan, the flints, paths and skies he had observed during wartime, formed the backdrop and opportunity for many characters and situations.

“Peake’s economical illustrating style can appear disarmingly simple yet every stroke was purposeful and controlled. Often cross-hatched, his images appear almost as engravings with a rich variety of texture and shading.

“In his choice of subjects, Peake’s imagination frequently tended towards the grotesque, on the borderline between beauty and ugliness.

“When his 1939 pirate story, Captain Slaughterboard, was first published, it received mixed reviews as some critics thought it too dark for children.

“This dark side of his imagination seemed to come at a price. Peake suffered from mental fragility throughout his life and later developed Parkinson’s Disease at a time when it was

little understood. He underwent intensive and unnecessary electro-shock therapy treatment for the condition. He died prematurely in 1968 at the age of 57.”

Mervyn Peake: A Centenary Celebration will include seminal examples from throughout the artist’s career such as key illustrations from his own works of fiction Gormenghast and Captain Slaughterboard, as well as his illustrations for classic children’s literature such as Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The show will

also include examples of drawings for his adaptation of Jekyll And Hyde.

A complementary exhibition will be held at the Otter Gallery at the University of Chichester (May 26- July 17) showing Peake’s colourful nonsense poetry Rhymes Without Reason, his first illustration commission for Hunting Of The Snark and his other original work of fiction

Mr Pye.

There will also be a conference at the University of Chichester, organised by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy the closing weekend of the exhibition (July 16/17).