Monday, July 03, 2023

The Sophie Blackall saga continues

It's been a few years since I checked in with my arch-nemesis Sophie Blackall, the two-Caldecott award-winning, yet, nevertheless, terrible illustrator. And I was not happy to see that she is still, occasionally, hired to provide illustrations for adult media.

She gave Harvard Business Review two of the most anemic-looking rowers possible. 

I was amazed to find there is another Blackall critic out there. A blog called Booktoss has a post entitled Blackall's Bland as Blah... 

It really got my hopes up, that perhaps finally a true reconsideration of Blackall's dreck was underway, much like the work of Renoir is being reconsidered

Booktoss writes:
In the upper left corner there is an African American woman … she is pregnant and has 4 kids around here. Now, remember the page is about families, and in the US, that most often means a nuclear family.

What do you notice? She is Black, has lots of kids, she’s pregnant, and no partner is anywhere in sight.

What is the common and racist stereotype about Black women in America?


Absolutely right. But not a word about the wretchedness of the art? Not even about Blackall's habit of giving the face of every human - and occasionally even animals - round red cheek spots? 

Strangely, the rowers for Harvard Business Review do not have red cheek spots, and you'd think they would be more likely to have them, making a physical effort, rowing against each other. 

It occurred to me that perhaps she only does the red cheek spots for children's illustrations but you can see them in her subway art card, which is her absolute masterpiece in the ugly art competition, and meant not just for children but any hapless commuter. 

I would never have learned about the career of Sophie Blackall except that I was forced to stare at her subway art card for hours in over-crowded subway cars, and I finally had to learn the identity of the person responsible for my visual distress.

I happened to be thinking of Blackall recently because I made the acquaintance of the daughter of Lloyd Moss, who wrote an award-winning children's book called Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

Thanks to its illustrations by Marjorie Priceman, it made "honor book" in the Caldecott awards for 1996, but was not the big winner.

Obviously Priceman's work is much better than the precious awkward pastel fussiness of Blackall. Blackall receiving the top award twice is a disgrace to the Caldecott award system. 

But just when I began to despair of the world of illustration, I read in Blackall's Wiki:
She seriously injured her hand in a fall while working at a children's camp.[2] Rehabilitative physical therapy has only been partially successful; she may have to give up precision drawing, and change her creative methods.
Now, although I despise her work, I wouldn't wish injury on Sophie Blackall. But if she had to be injured anyway, well... a change from her former "precision drawing" has the potential to make her a much better artist.