Saturday, 10 October 2015

Packing a punch: Neil Packer's Iliad

For the next two weeks the Gallery will be host to The Iliad illustrated by Neil Packer.  The exhibition opening coincided, as if by accident, with National Poetry Day 2015.  The Iliad is one of the greatest known works of epic poetry by Homer.

Following on from the glowing success of The Odyssey, published by Walker Books in 2012, the electric collaboration of Cross and Packer returns with this fresh version of The Iliad.

Gillian Cross has presented an honest retelling of the story, and is true to the original; opening it up to new and younger audiences.  Over 2500 years on, and the book is still as gripping today as it was for the Greeks and Romans who shared the tale round campfires in the Mediterranean.  Packer's illustrations have quite literally brought new colour to the tale:

Why so sad Achilles?
Packer brings the story to life through brightly coloured, stylized images of gods and men that are at once delicate yet robust; reflecting the strong themes of war, brotherhood and (im)mortality than run through the narrative.
Zeus took out his golden scales
His illustrations enliven the imagination and stir the emotions as the reader delves into this mythical world of gods and men.

This is not the first time that Packer has approached the Classics; having illustrated I, Claudius and Claudius the God for the Folio Society.  It is clear that Packer is au fait with ancient greek interpretations of the tale, obviously influenced by the traditional red and black-figure vase painting on Athenian pottery.

Attic black-figure amphora, Ajax and Achilles playing dice, attributed to Exekias c.540-530BC
Like two wild boars
The posture of Ajax and Hector in Packer's version mimic the Attic black-figure amphora attributed to Exekias.  Packer's illustration of this famous scene is as ground breaking as Exekias' original; using bold colour and lines, but adding a modern twist with his use of foreshortening to add depth to the image.

The use of very fine outline to give a 3D appearance to they key figures is a nod to the etching techniques used on the Greek vase depictions of the same characters.

Smatterings of ancient Greek have also been cleverly worked into the beautiful images that accompany the text, adding a further dimension of historical accuracy to the illustrations and deepen the reading of the tale: Dolios written underneath 'But that's another story' means deceit in Ancient Greek.

But that's another story

Craftsmanship is apparent in Packer's work, and it comes as no surprise that he has also borrowed pattern and colour themes from traditional embroidery of the Epirus region and Byzantine silks:

Bolster cover, mid 18th century, Greece, Epirus ©
Detail of Hector's body was lain on a fine bed

The limited colour palette used in some of his illustrations sets the character action apart from the background, and the use of whites, blues and greys parallels 'household friendly' 18th century interpretation of Greek mythology as represented on Spode's Blue Room Collection:

Diomedes grabbed at the reins

Spode Blue Room Plate - Greek

Packer is very aware of being influenced by the world around him and describes himself as a 'stylistic magpie' as he talks to the Illustration Cupboard about his work.

We for one can't wait to see what takes his inspiration next!  But until then, we look forward to welcoming you to the gallery to view The Iliad, on until the 24 October.

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