Monday, September 14, 2020

You should give the thing back, Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall, pioneering
the use of conjoined twins in children's
book illustrations
If the election of Donald Trump isn't enough to convince you we do NOT live in a meritocracy, consider that one of the worst professional illustrators of all time, Sophie Blackall, apparently won the Caldecott Medal for a second time.

From seven thousand miles away I heard the crackling committee and the word medal, and the first thing out of my mouth was…
Oh no. No. No.
Followed by, Are you sure about this?
I hate to tell you, but I tried to give the thing back.

As the news of this second Caldecott sank in, I kept thinking, No one deserves this much good fortune. And then I remembered how I felt when my second child, Eggy, was born. I didn’t, for a minute, offer to give my son back. His arrival was every bit as miraculous and joyful and distinct as it had been with my first child, Olive.
I was surprised to learn she had children. I guess I had unconsciously formed the impression that she hated children. But the ultimate consumers of her work don't have much artistic discernment and are unlikely to complain about her bad work, and most adults don't read or care about children's picture books. This is why she's gotten away with her career of artistic abominations. That and a Caldecott Award committee full of cretins.

Here is a list of the tasteless, asthetically-challenged oafs:

Members of the 2019 Caldecott Medal Selection Committee are: Chair Mary Fellows, Upper Hudson Library System, Albany, N.Y. ; Farouqua Abuzeit, Boston (Mass.) Public Library; Heather Acerro, Rochester (Minn.) Public Library; Tom Bober, School District of Clayton, Mo.; Megan Alleyn Egbert, Meridian (Idaho) Library District; Lucia Martinez Gonzalez, North Miami (Fla.) Public Library; Dr. Darwin L. Henderson, Cincinnati, Ohio; Shannon Horrocks, Sno-Isle Libraries, Snohomish, Wash.;  Dr. Jonda C. McNair, Clemson (S.C.) University; Dr. Ruth E. Quiroa, National Louis University, Lisle, Ill.; Chinasa Izeogu Seyse, Schenectady (N.Y.) County Public Library; Amanda Struckmeyer, Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District (Wisc.); Marilyn J. Taniguchi, Beverly Hills (Calif.) Public Library; Gwen Vanderhage, Brodart Co., Williamsport, Pa.; and Caroline Ward, Cos Cob, Conn.

As with the 2016 award, the  2019 runners-up to Blackall's work - the hideous Hello Lighthouse displaying again Blackall's complete unfamiliarity with the concept of perspective but she keeps trying it anyway - are so far superior to Blackall it is heartbreaking. How frustrating it must be for talented artists to be runners-up to such a sub-mediocrity.

Blackall writes: "no one deserves this much good fortune." Certainly nobody with as little drawing talent as Blackall deserves to win one of the highest honors in illustration. Twice.

I am so thankful I decided not to become an illustrator as I had planned back in art school. I would be losing my freaking mind at this miscarriage of justice.

I just hope she sticks with illustrating books for children so that I may avoid seeing her work. It's bad enough I have to be reminded of it every couple of years. 

If, god forbid, she is commissioned to do another piece of public art where blameless adults are forced to stare at her awfulness, as I was back in 2012 when I first became aware of Blackall, I will file a formal complaint on behalf of the citizens of New York City.

She is apparently so proud of her subway art monstrosity it's the first thing you see when you go to her web site.

According to the web site for the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance, we can blame the New York Times for inflicting Sophie Blackall on New Yorkers.
In 2000, Blackall was inveigled by New York. She convinced her husband, and two small children (who couldn’t talk and had no say in the matter), to pack suitcases and sense of adventure and join the diaspora. After two months of pounding the streets, portfolio in hand, and despite the tireless efforts of her agent, the return plane ticket was cashed in to pay the rent. Just when the highlight in the day had become half a can of Budweiser at six o’clock, the fax machine coughed and spluttered and delivered a commission of nine illustrations for The New York Times.
But at least someone else has noticed how awful Blackall is at perspective.
Sophie Blackall grew up in Australia where she learned to draw on the beach with sticks, which has not altogether helped her sense of perspective. She completed a Bachelor of Design in Sydney, which furnished her with useful Letraset, bromide and enlarger machine skills. The following few years were spent painting robotic characters for theme parks, providing the hands for a DIY television show, and writing a household hints column. 
She's also bad at composition and anatomy.

I can see how painting robotic characters for theme parks also influenced her style because she can barely express human emotions and her people's faces look the same.

The standard Blackall face. Almost no differentiation between character or gender.

And one more thing.

The waves in this image - from her award winning (gah!) picture book - the waves are very stylized - so stylized you'd barely know they were waves except for the context. That's not a bad thing in itself. Except that the clouds are rendered in a realistic way.

It's choices like that which make Sophie Blackall's work look so amateurish.

But I guess trying to explain to the Caldecott committee why she is incompetent would have about as much impact as arguing with a Trump supporter over his incompetence.

They just don't care.