London’s House of Illustration have announced their brand-exhibition programme for 2020 – and it’s going to be one heck of a year.
Offering the first ever Raymond Briggs retrospective, the first solo London show of queer cultural icon Tom of Finland, and the first ever exhibitions dedicated to modernist graphic designer George Him and the untold story of illustration in the criminal justice system, they’ve truly got something for everyone.
2020 kicks off with the last weeks of Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics (ending 19th January), the first major exhibition of graphic design from Cuba’s ‘golden age’. It brings together 100 posters and 70 magazines distributed across the globe by OSPAAAL: Fidel Castro’s Organisation of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America, an organisation founded to promote cooperation between socialist countries and liberation movements.
Also still running is W.E.B. Du Bois: Charting Black Lives (until 1st March) – an exhibition of pioneering infographics that challenged racism in turn-of-the-century America.
Revered by everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Beyoncé, W. E. B. Du Bois stands as one of the most important and influential African American activists and intellectuals of the 20th century. As co-founder of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and author of the seminal book The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois is celebrated for his profound and prolific writings. But alongside his famous essays, Du Bois produced an astounding – yet little-known – body of infographics to challenge pseudo-scientific racism, making visual arguments every bit as powerful as his textual ones.
W. E. B. Du Bois: Charting Black Lives displays the complete set of 63 graphics shown at the 1900 Paris Exposition, produced by Du Bois and a team of African American students from his sociology laboratory at Atlanta University. These visually innovative graphs, charts and maps formed a radical new approach to refuting racism, using strikingly presented facts and statistics to counter contemporary white supremacy.
The end of January sees the opening of George Him: A Polish Designer for Mid-Century Britain (31st January to 10th May 2020) – the first ever retrospective of Polish-Jewish émigré who brought European modernist aesthetics to British graphic design.
Spanning George Him’s long and versatile career as both an independent designer and as one half of the prolific Lewitt-Him partnership (1933-1954), the exhibition will include iconic wartime propaganda posters for the Ministries of Food and Information, corporate branding for El Al airlines and adverts for clients like Schweppes, Technicolor, the Post Office and The Times.
Him’s distinctive blend of hard modernist lines and empathetic humour marked his varied output, from reportage and book illustration to his era-defining branding and advertising. The exhibition will display previously unseen working sketches, original artwork and ephemera alongside Him’s most celebrated work, revealing one of the most important graphic artists of the 20th century.
Opening on 6th March and running until 21st June is Tom of Finland, a rare opportunity to see original works by queer cultural icon Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen) on the centenary of his birth.
Following the well-received exhibition of his work at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival earlier this year, this timely exhibition celebrates the artist whose unique aesthetic and homoerotic visions had a profound impact on the likes of Queen and the Village People – despite living and working in a country where both homosexuality and pornography were illegal.
It will feature iconic, previously unseen drawings from Tom of Finland Foundation’s collection – unabashed tributes to gay sexuality and identity which continue to have an outsize influence today.
Forensic Art: Illustrating Justice opens 22nd May running until 20th September 2020, lifting the lid on the untold story of illustration in the criminal justice system over the last 200 years.
Featuring everything from 19th century courtroom sketches of the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst and Dr Crippen to contemporary digital ‘trial graphics’ used to explain forensic evidence to a jury, this landmark exhibition will show the crucial yet overlooked role illustration plays in the UK’s criminal justice system.
It will include facial composites, images from forensic notebooks and drawings from notorious trials by the women leading courtroom illustration in the UK today.
At the end of June we have the opening of Peony Gent: Illustrator in Residence (26th June – 18th October 2020). On view will be experimental comics and found poetry from House of Illustration’s sixth annual residency.
Peony Gent makes comics like you’ve never seen before: delicately drawn meditations on memory and gentle examinations of things usually ignored.
Over a six-month residency at House of Illustration, Gent will create an archive of overlooked things and thoughts in the King’s Cross area, transforming them into reflective illustrations, found poetry and installations.
Perhaps the most eagerly-awaited exhibition of the year will be the Raymond Briggs: A Retrospective (2nd October 2020 to 24th January 2021), incredibly the first ever retrospective of one of the most important author-illustrators of all time.
Raymond Briggs’ influence on children’s literature cannot be overstated. He invented scatological humour for children, centred stories around working-class families for the first time and confronted massive, ‘grown-up’ issues including dementia, death and nuclear war.
This long-awaited exhibition will show never-before-seen material from Briggs’ personal archive that reveals the origin of the iconic titles that have become literary classics and international phenomena. With original artwork from books including his poignant picture book The Snowman (1980) and pioneering graphic novel Ethel & Ernest (1998), the exhibition celebrates Briggs as an exceptional draughtsman, typographer and storyteller.
The year of exhibitions and much, much more at the House of Illustration rounds off with Olivia Twist: London/Fond Gens Libre (23rd October 2020 to 14th February 2021) – large-scale drawings and embroideries exploring family life in London and Saint Lucia.
Olivia Twist describes her work as ‘the shock of the familiar’, finding beauty and drama in everyday city life, from bus stops to internet cafes. In 2019, she swapped London for Saint Lucia, visiting her ancestral island for the first time in over 20 years.
This new commission will feature portraits and intimate domestic scenes reflecting on family life on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
• The House of Illustration 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London, N1C 4BH | Book Tickets for all exhibitions here