Jonathan Cape are a fabulous and eclectic publisher, even now as part of Random House, bringing us everything from James Bond to Tamara Drew to Alice in Sunderland to the works of J G Ballard and a multitude of other great books.  The one I am currently most pleased about is their volume on illustrator and writer John Burningham.

Mr Gumpy on the cover, bearing a strong resemblance to Mr Burningham

I first came across Burningham in a Walker books Children's anthology.  The story, Mr Gumpy's (not Grumpy) Outing appeared to have been  drawn with coloured Biro's and was, on intial viewing, even more simple and childlike than Quentin Blake's.  Closer inspection showed a far more complex mixed media approach to the work that, for all it's apparent simplicity, made the production of it look stunningly complex. 

Burningham came out of the second Golden Age of Children's Illustration in the 1960's and it shows in the work, there's a degree of experimentation in his work that was previously unseen until Burningham and his contemporaries came along.  Flicking through the images in the books you can see use of pen and ink, water colour, collage, wax resist, coloured pencils, coloured crayons, acrylic/oil paint.  While still always recognisable, Burningham's style varies between splattery ink drawings, exquisitely detailed pen and ink filled with crosshatch, blocky acrylic paintings and painted on photographs.  His book on France appears to be wholey impressionistic and he always seems to be stretching himself and the edium he works in most, the children's book. 

Primarily the book is a wonderful window into a creative mind and life.  Burningham writes it as a slightly rambling and anecdotal autobiography.  He seems to be unaware of but at the same time truely appreciative of the fact he was starting his professional life at a time when you could, literally, put a portfolio together and fall into the most wonderful jobs an illustrator could imagine.  Many of the things he's done seem to have come about from opportunities being offered to him rather than him seeking them out, most impressive of all being when the West Japan Railway Company approached him to write a story about Japan's first steam train for Expo 90.  On top of that they asked for designs for two railway stations and three train carriages to all be used at the Expo.  All his work for the Expo was a great success and the book "Oi! Get off our train" is one of the highlights of John Burningham's work both in terms of the art and the multilayered nature of the story.

Burningham is an impressive and prolific artist who's work deserves much wider recognition and besides, anyone who can count Maurice Sendak among their fans has got to be worth a look.