Exploring the imaginary characters and worlds of picture book art
Fantastic Worlds is an exhibition and public program that celebrates and explores the fantastic and imaginary characters and worlds of selected Australian picture books through original artworks, animations and associated media. Curated for families and children (aged 2 to 10 years old), this exhibition invites visitors to get up close to experience these imaginative worlds and the curious, mysterious and whimsical characters that occupy these realms.
Artists featured in the exhibition include Graeme Base, Lance Balchin, Leigh Hobbs, Elise Hurst, Alison Lester, Marc Martin, Cat Rabbit and Isobel Knowles (Soft Stories), Tai Snaith, Shaun Tan and Anna Walker.
Fantastic Worlds revolves around representations of fantastic and imaginary characters and worlds within selected picture books, and there is a strong narrative quality to many of these works. A number of sub-themes also thread through this exhibition, symbolically weaving together different artworks. In some cases, artworks overlap with a number of these secondary themes. Sub-themes include: Imaginary Worlds; Anthropomorphic Animals; Journeys of Discovery; Inner-Worlds (including emotional and psychological states); Cautionary Tales and Fairy Tales; Climate Change and Environmental Destruction, and possible Future Worlds. There may well be other sub-themes that you can identify as you explore the exhibition.
Comprised of original artworks, developmental media and newly designed installations, this exhibition celebrates both finished artworks and the creative processes involved in making art for picture books. The original artworks in this exhibition all engage with the principal theme and utilise a range of creative techniques including oil painting, watercolour, illustration, collage, sculpture, digital collage, animation and installation. Complimenting these artworks are selected associated media — sketchbooks, working drawings, soft sculptures, collage elements and sets that were used to create the published artworks. Presenting finished works with developmental media allows viewers to consider the creative process undertaken by artists to create new artworks for picture books.
Why picture book art?
Picture books are one of the first places that young children engage with the world of visual culture and representation. They are sites of wonder, curiosity and learning, often facilitating early creativity, literacy and understandings of the world and other people. Arguably, the artworks in these publications are the primary reason that children, especially young children find them engaging.
Yet this creative field is sometimes undervalued by the ‘fine art’ world because it is seen as more of a commercial artform. While picture books are part of commodity culture and intersect with other creative disciplines such as writing, book design, graphic design, photography and publishing, picture book art is an important and innovative creative discipline. It is also a growing field that has become more aesthetically diverse and competitive over the past few decades.
Significantly, the artworks in picture books draw young readers into narratives and present them with visual representations of characters, environments, social situations, problems and ideas. A dynamic relationship is generated between images and words, requiring people to read across and between these elements to make their own associations and interpretations. While some is grounded in research into the needs and interests of this specific audience. Young children learn best in art museums and galleries when their curiosity is sparked and they have opportunities to participate through first-hand, creative activity and play.1 It is for this reason that audience participation is such an important aspect of this exhibition.