The Student
Review
Illustrations by Jonathan Gibbs at the ECA

Jonathan Gibbs is a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, and his artistic practice involves illustration, painting and printmaking. He has exhibited his work at The Curwen Gallery, Open Eye Gallery, Society of Wood Engravers and St. Jude’s Prints, and now his work stands in the Sculpture Court of the Edinburgh College of Art.

The exhibition, in honour of his retirement, features work he has completed over the last 30 years. In the words of Gibbs, “the main purpose of this exhibition is to thank Edinburgh College of Art for employing me, and to wish it all very best things for the coming years”. He emphasises the collaborative nature of illustration, having worked with graphic designers, editors, art directors and publishers. Further, he has recently worked for a number of publishers, including Faber & Faber, Routledge Publishing and Hamish Hamilton among many others.

Gibbs uses the tradition of woodcut, a printing technique with a long and rich history that originated in China and later spread to Europe. Gibbs’ technique involves engraving onto his own boxwood and holly blocks and then printing onto Japanese paper by hand-burnishing with a bone spoon. He skilfully engraves imaginative and intricate images, creating unique and lively works. The exhibition explores both his process and the final results, revealing the technical skills required to master his practice.

The blend of pictorial narrative and abstracted shapes in the exhibition is striking. Many of his works take on the form of pure abstraction or patterned surfaces, whilst others create fictional worlds and imaginative compositions. Some resemble the natural world, depicting trees, animals, birds and rivers, while others have a strong sense of geometric form and pattern.

However, the majority of his works fall somewhere in between the two, with his figurative illustrations possessing highly stylistic and decorative qualities. His charming depiction of the Owl and Pussycat is particularly captivating; despite his unique use of composition and the incorporation of patterned forms, the image is still unmistakably recognisable.

Gibbs’ exhibition at the ECA reveals his diverse collection, from his paintings, prints and book illustrations to his illustrative leaflets and patterned address books. It was fascinating to see the great variety of works he has produced throughout his career. The works on show are dynamic, lively and imaginative, and the exhibition truly celebrates and honours the dynamic career of Jonathan Gibbs by drawing the viewer into his delicate and intricate world.

Illustrations by Jonathan Gibbs is at the Edinburgh College of Art Sculpture Court until 26th January.

Image: Kitty Becher