Raising the bar with children’s book art

Posted on September 1, 2015 | 1 comment

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Curator Des Bunyon hanging an illustration of a wrinkled elephant by Kerry Argent, from the book ‘India the Showstopper’. Image: Supplied.

By Louise North

Despite their always-full calendar, south-west arts stalwarts and gallery owners Helen and Des Bunyon continue to make exhibiting and promoting the works of Australian children’s book illustrators a priority.

For more than a quarter of a century the much-loved couple have curated an annual exhibition of works from Australia’s finest children’s book illustrators and, this year, the exhibition will be shared between the Bunyon’s Customs House Gallery at Hawkesdale  and Blarney Books & Art, Port Fairy from September 5 to October 4.

They Bunyons have been one of a handful of gallerists to put the work of children’s book illustrators on the arts map in Australia, raising the genre beyond mere “pictures for books” to works of art in their own right.

But Helen says that things are starting to change. The National Gallery of Victoria has recently added a collection of Australian children’s book illustrations donated by Albert Ullin of The Little Book Room fame. The exhibition, Bunyips and Dragons, is currently on show at the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square.


All packed up and ready to go: a selection of the children’s book illustrations that will appear at Blarney Books & Art, Port Fairy as part of the annual exhibition. Image: Supplied.

Since leaving Customs House Gallery in Gilles St, Warrnambool, Helen and Des set up a small gallery beside their home in Hawkesdale, and kept the same gallery name. (You can read our earlier story here.)

As always their annual exhibition will appeal to people of all ages.

The exhibition at Blarney will feature works by, among other, Shaun Tan, Anna Walker, Ritva Voutila, Anna Pignataro, Tai Snaith, Alison Lester, Kim Gamble, Graham Byrne, Eric Loebbecke, Gus Gordon, Ben Sanders and Craig Smith.

Customs House Gallery will showcase the work of illustrator Kerry Argent.

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Four oil paintings from ‘The Selfish Giant’ and two pastel illustrations from ‘The Stone Lion’ all produced by artist Ritva Voutila. Image: Supplied.

Where possible, the artworks and the books that they have been created for will sit side by side, so that visitors can see the context of the work.

“In saying that, the artworks, although created for a book, are stand alone, beautiful works,” Helen said.

“What other art exhibition has the squeals of delight as children recognise favourite book characters?”

Helen, a former art teacher, says she loves seeing children looking at artworks, then finding them in books, and sometimes even having impromptu story time sessions.

“The power of art and literature introduced at a young age, hopefully stays with us forever,” she said.

The works in the exhibitions use different media and have varying styles.

Increasingly illustrators are producing giclee, high-resolution prints of works in signed, limited editions, making it more readily affordable, Helen said. But there are still book artists who exhibit and sell their original works in watercolour, gouache, pencil, or collage.

“We hope that visitors go away amazed and with a new appreciation for the work and skill that goes into producing a picture book, and of course with a smile on their faces,” Helen said.

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Curator Helen Bunyon with works by Alison Lester, from the book ‘Running with the horses’, which form part of the annual exhibition at Blarney Books & Art. Image: Supplied.

Helen and Des Bunyon’s  26th annual exhibition of Australian Children’s Picture Book Illustrations opens on Saturday September 5 at Blarney Books & Art, James St, Port Fairy and at Customs House Gallery, 85 Dawson St, Hawkesdale and will continue until October 4. Blarney Books is open from Thursday to Sunday 11am to 4pm, and Customs House is open on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm, or by appointment.

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1 Comment

  1. I have been to two of these exhibitions run by Helen and Des ,looking forward to seeing this one.

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