Spotlight: Gemma Correll

 Last week I popped along to Tatty Devine's Brick Lane store to check out Graham is a Weirdo and Other Stories, a mini exhibition by illustrator. Gemma Correll. I'm quite surprised to realise that I've never written much about Gemma's work here on the blog before, since I've been a fan of her kooky, faux-naive illustration, and especially her drawn daily diaries, and What I Wore Today project for some time.

Apart from her distinctively quirky style, and enthusiasm for cute animal characters (cats! pugs!), what I really like about Gemma's work is the way that she brings images and texts together to create work that tells stories. In fact, in many ways, her work is reminiscent of the children's book illustrators I love - there's a touch of Sara Fanelli, a hint of Oliver Jeffers and a whisper of Quentin Blake about her drawing style.

This small but perfectly formed exhibition is a fun collection of unexpected animal drawings, and comes accompanied by its own zine. (On the day I visited, Graham Norton had apparently also been along to see the show and had been rather taken with one of Gemma's 'Pugs Not Drugs' tote bags!)

If these lovely pictures weren't enough reason to think highly of Gemma and her work, she also has a pug called Mr Norman Pickles and a very enviable studio space. Find out more about her and her work on her website and blog.

Graham is a Weirdo and Other Stories is at Tatty Devine until Monday 1st August.

 [all images by Gemma Correll]

Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2011

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is undoubtedly one of the most important arts events of the year, and after several of those who entered the calendar competition told me it was also their cultural highlight of the summer, I knew I should go along and take a look!

I have to admit (shamefaced) to never having been to the Summer Exhibition before, and as such I was curious to see it. The show has often been characterised as occupying the traditional and 'safe' end of the contemporary visual arts spectrum, yet it is also something of a phenomenon: the largest open-submission contemporary art exhibition in the world, it has been running since 1768, and this year attracted over 12,000 entries from 27 countries.

Far from being dry or dusty, I found the exhibition to be a hugely inspiring experience. Wandering through the interlinked galleries is like feasting on a delightful smorgasboard of different work, encompassing a huge range of styles and approaches. I loved the presentation style, with works often grouped close together - perhaps most obviously in Gallery III (pictured above) which this year was hung by Christopher Le Brun and Tony Bevan, and which Le Brun describes as 'a battle of the paintings'. Rather than seeming cluttered or chaotic, the result is a pleasingly exuberant patchwork of art.

For me, the prints and the paintings were the undoubted highlight of this exhibition: I was much less taken with the photography, architecture and sculpture, although I did enjoy the scribbly geometric forms of Anthony Gormley's Drift, and Jeff Koons' exuberant Colouring Book.  Amongst my favourite spaces were the Small Weston Room, arranged by Olwyn Bowey - a treasure trove of miniature and small scale works - and Room I, hung by Chris Orr, filled with an intriguing range of prints by everyone from Gillian Ayres to Tracy Emin; Keith Coventry to Elizabeth Blackadder, plus vitrines containing artist's books.

Half the fun of the Summer Exhibition is stumbling upon new talent jostling alongside works by well-known or favourite artists whose style is instantly identifiable, be it Rob Ryan's magical images or Barbara Rae's jewel-coloured screen prints. There's more fun to be had poring over the list of works in the exhibition, which includes prices for the majority of the works, and choosing which ones you might buy for yourself, just supposing you happened to have a small fortune to hand. Altogether, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is a most enjoyable experience - certainly this year one of my cultural highlights of the summer too!

Many thanks Sam and Kate for the recommendation.

[Image: Installation view of Gallery III. Photo: John Bodkin. Via Royal Academy of Arts]

Pop Up Festival

Last weekend I went along to Pop Up, a brand new festival of stories which took place in Coram’s Fields in London on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 July.

The festival was actually the grand finale to several weeks of events which had already taken place in venues across London, from the British Library to London Zoo. These events brought together children and young people from schools in Camden and Islington with a range of illustrators and authors, including Jamila Gavin, Malorie Blackman and Anthony Browne, who launched the schools programme as his final appearance as Children's Laureate.

The final weekend was packed with free public events for children of all ages and their families, ranging from a tea-party with the Moomins to a chance to meet Rastamouse to spoken word, poetry and hip-hop with artists such as Francesca Beard and Charlie Dark. I was there for several events relating to Booktrust's Roald Dahl Funny Prize, and spent a most entertaining day helping out two of the judges from the 2010 prize,  Bruce Ingman and Philip Ardagh, with their laugh-out-loud performances and workshops.

Because I was so busy with these events, I didn't get as much chance to look around the festival as I would like, but it was fun taking a wander around at the end of the day, looking at artwork created by children, peeping into the event spaces and the packed Guardian bookshop, and even meeting a few animals in the farmyard area! Over 6,000 people came along to the festival over the course of the weekend, in what was undoubtedly a fantastic start to this fun, exciting festival, which puts a fresh spin on the usual book festival model. For more information visit the website or there's a longer blog post here which I wrote for the Booktrust blog.

Philip Pullman at the London Literature Festival

I was lucky enough to go along to see the launch of this year’s London Literature Festival  - an event with author Philip Pullman at the Southbank Centre. The London Literature Festival is an annual summer event, which this year featured authors including Alan Hollinghurst, Iain Sinclair, Ali Smith, Alexander McCall Smith, Hanif Kureshi and Michael Morpurgo.

Pullman is a writing hero of mine - I'm a huge fan of his Northern Lights trilogy and the wonderful Sally Lockhart books - so it was wonderful to have this opportunity to hear him discuss his life, work and writing process with broadcaster Peter Kemp. I wrote a full account of the event for the Booktrust blog which you can read here.

And the winners are....

 Thanks to everyone who entered the Tate calendar giveaway!

I now know all about some of your cultural highlights for the summer, including the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the Magritte exhibition at Tate Liverpool, the Camberwell Arts Festival, and of course the mighty Manchester International Festival, which this time round features everything from an opera inspired by John Dee to The Day We Sang a 'love story with singing' created by Victoria Wood.

I've now randomly selected the two winners and they are:

Ben for the MirĂ³ calendar
Kate for the Watercolour calendar

I've emailed you both so get back to me as soon as you can to receive your calendars.