Saturday, November 07, 2015

Blackall strikes again

Since I expressed my dismay over the work of Sophie Blackall three years ago, after I had a chance to examine it thoroughly thanks to its being shoved in my face constantly on my daily subway commute, I admit I haven't thought much about Blackall.

So when this image popped up in the NYTimes web site Friday, I glanced at it, and even before I read about the controversy surrounding the book, I was aware of a feeling of irritation. There was something about the figure... its tentative, half-assedness and simpering expression on the girl's face. So I checked the byline. And guess who turns out to be the illustrator of this book?
The book, “A Fine Dessert,” written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, shows four children at different points in history making a blackberry fool with a parent. The parallel stories highlight both technological changes in kitchens and the shifting social relationships that determined just who did the cooking.
Oh baby Jesus, Blackall is even worse at picking projects than she is at draftsmanship. Blackall defends presenting enslaved peoples in a cozy home-style American families scenario in a not-suprisingly-delusional way:
The dinner table scene is set up to show the deep injustice of the situation. The people who worked so hard over the dessert don’t get to eat it. A very small enslaved child pulls a cord to fan the white family throughout the duration of the dinner. The enslaved mother and daughter are somber and downcast...
 3) The act of having to hide in the cupboard to lick the scrapings from the bowl is the thing children have responded to most viscerally. They are horrified at how unfair it is. There is nothing whimsical about hiding in the cupboard. It conveys a complete lack of freedom.
In what world does Sophie Blackall live? No child is going to be able to understand just by reading this book that hiding in a cupboard is a horrifically unfair situation - kids often enjoy hiding out. They certainly aren't going to understand the significance of hiding in the cupboard.

Here is that page, which Blackall presents on her blog. What this demonstrates, more than anything else, is what a terrible artist Sophie Blackall is. I recommend you click the image to get the full effect of her ineptitude.

Note the little boy on the right with his feet aligned on the same exact plane, as if an ancient Egyptian tomb painting - something she does not do for the woman on the far left, so it isn't a consistent style choice. 

Speaking of inconsistency, there's the matter of Blackall's handling of fabric patterns. She manages to make the stripes conform to the draping of the curtains at the window, but when it comes to patterns on clothing, just forget it - she draws straight vertical lines down the dresses of the slave woman and girl in defiance of the contours of the clothing.

And then there is the two legged-table in the lower-left corner. I suppose it could be a two-legged wall-mounted table, but the leg is a couple of inches away from the wall, while the top of the table appears to go at least half a foot beyond that leg, right into the wall. So maybe it's a curved-inward wall. That's the only logical answer. 

And then there is the matter of the red fabric cord the boy is pulling, which appears on the verge of going up in flames. If I was a kid that would be the first thing I would notice.

Three years after I critiqued her subway poster Blackall still hasn't become acquainted with human anatomy - once you notice the freakishly-elongated upper arm of the woman on the right you cannot unsee it. To get a sense of the failure, note that the elbows of the people with their backs to us line up with the second-down cross-piece on the back of the chair, while the elbow of the woman on the right lines up with the fourth-down crosspiece.

Blackall describes the expressions of the slave mother and daughter in this picture as "somber and downcast" - which is perhaps what Blackall was going for. It is not what she achieved. The little girl appears to have a smile, probably due to Blackall's inability to draw faces from that angle. And as far as the mom, she has the same expression on her face as the women in this medieval illumination. Surely the medieval artist meant to convey horror at being handed a freshly decapitated human head. Like Blackall he has not succeeded in the realistic presentation of human emotion.

Clearly Blackall graduated from the the same school of anatomy as Renoir. Although I imagine Blackall is not at all displeased by the comparison, thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, and because in spite of Renoir's inability to draw, he made a living as an artist too.

And don't even get me started on the tablecloth. I don't have all day.