Or was he?
Someone didn’t seem to think so. When I got to the foyer of the Scottish National Gallery on Thursday, I thought I’d save myself some time by not wandering aimlessly through the whole place, searching for the James Mayhew exhibition. I knew it was on (until 1st March), and I’d read the press release and everything. But the greeter by the door had not heard of James and looked at me pityingly, as it was clear I’d come for the wrong thing. I insisted. She leafed through their current brochure, and when I saw Grandma on the back of Nessie, in the doorway of the gallery, I stabbed my finger at the picture and said ‘that’s what I mean.’ ‘Oh, that one,’ she said. She knew where it was. (Garden level, next to the café, the shop and the toilets. Very convenient.)
It was lovely! Small, but perfect.
There were framed illustrations from several of James’s books, and they had his real sketchbooks on display, to show us how a book is born. Seems there is a lot more work than just sitting down to draw pretty pictures. Very interesting, very professional.
I’m the type of gallery visitor who tends to avoid the video shows, but in this case I was happy to make an exception, even wearing headphones and sitting down to my ten minutes with James.
He paints upside down. That’s so clever. He had been filmed talking to a group of children, and he drew as he talked, making it the right way round for his audience. It was some tall story about his Uncle Henry and the pirates from Treasure Island. As if that could be real! And who’s to say that the real shark’s lens he had in a box was a real shark’s lens..? Hmm?
They have a reading corner, with a couple of nice rattan chairs and samples of James’s books to read.
I went and had some tea in the café, and then I returned to look at the exhibition once more.
You know, were it not for a distinct lack of wall space, I could see myself having a real Mayhew van Gogh or Turner (or Monet or Renoir) on my wall at Bookwitch Towers. Anyone who believes that picture book illustrators are merely people who can do passable and childish pictures of small children and dinosaurs, need to get better acquainted with James Mayhew (yes, he does exist) and his books. He’s proof that you need to be a pretty capable all-rounder in order to make those ‘simple little illustrations’ in children’s books.
(Naughty Saint George! Forgetting everything for Mona Lisa…)