Southwold Ways With Words Literature Festival - Review of Alan Powers: ‘Ardizonne and His Work’

PUBLISHED: 15:00 14 November 2016

Ways with Words Festival 2016 in Southwold. Alan Powers' talk about the life and work of Edward Ardizonne. Picture by Chris Ure

Ways with Words Festival 2016 in Southwold. Alan Powers' talk about the life and work of Edward Ardizonne. Picture by Chris Ure

Chris Ure

Having visited the Edward Ardizonne exhibition in London two days earlier, I was very much looking forward to Alan Powers’ talk about the life and work of this celebrated illustrator, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Many people will be familiar with Ardizonne’s work, without actually knowing his name, as he illustrated a vast range of books for children and adults; designed book jackets, posters and advertising products; as well as being a respected war artist. Alan Powers’, expertly researched, new book: ‘Edward Ardizonne: Artist and Illustrator’ provides a wonderful collection of the best and most evocative images of Ardizonne’s long career.

Born in what is now Vietnam, Ardizonne spent some of his childhood in Suffolk, at East Bergholt and Ipswich, gaining artistic inspiration from both locations. He was a timid child in a household of women and much of his later work demonstrates his fond fascination for women.

When he moved to London, he trained at the Westminster School of Art and in the early nineteen-thirties produced a series of iconic drawings of the local Maida Vale pubs for his Radio Times author friend Maurice Gorham. Alan Powers describes Ardizonne’s style as ‘social realism – pictures of ordinary people illustrated in a way that ordinary people will understand.

He said that Ardizonne was a communicator and that many of his drawings reflected the undercurrent of the economic situation at that time, when people were suffering from a shortage of money.

He and his wife Catherine had three children and having them in the house helped generate the stories for his children’s books, not least the hugely successful ‘Little Tim’ books partly inspired by his time visiting Ipswich docks. 
As Alan Powers explained, initially the publisher took a business risk, but later the books became so successful that they sold worldwide and some of the original manuscripts are now housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Many other books followed including ‘Lucy Brown and Mr Grimes’; ‘Nicholas and the Fast Moving Diesel’ and ‘Johnny the Clockmaker’.

Ardizonne’s work as a war artist unusually placed the military alongside routine daily activity, which Powers said ‘gave them great strength’.

Ardizonne was never out of work and was always in demand to illustrate book jackets for many successful authors including Eleanor Farjeon and also his cousin who wrote the ‘Nurse Matilda’ books under the pseudonym ‘Christianna Brand’.

Alan Powers newly published book not only celebrates the life of a delightful and talented illustrator but also provides a rare opportunity to see much of the original art work in an exhibition at the ‘House of Illustration’, Kings Cross in London, until January 2017.

Maurice Sendak, author of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ described Ardizonne as ‘a natural born craftsman’ and this was clearly demonstrated in the screen projected images of paintings, drawings and illustrations that accompanied Alan Powers compelling and most enjoyable talk

Chris Ure

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