January 13, 2016

When we spoke to Miriam Elia, author of We Go to the Gallery

As the new year has well and truly begun, we've been looking back at some of the highlights from last year and our bestsellers too. 

One of our biggest bestsellers last year was the We Go to the Gallery book by Author and Comedian Miriam Elia. A spoof of the much-loved penguin books, the book presents a confused childrens' look at art and their experience in a modern gallery.Very much for the adults and definitely worth a read if you fancy a good belly laugh this January. The book has sold a whopping 65,000 copies nationwide and topped our bestsellers book-chart in the shop despite only being available since October. 

We caught up with Miriam and asked her a few questions about the book and her inspiration.

The characters John and Susan are having a very confusing time around the gallery, is this a reflection on your childhood take on modern art and has anything changed now?
Yes, both my parents are artists, they met at the Royal college of Art in the late 1970s. As children, me and my brother were taken to art galleries most weekends. Sometimes I loved the work, but on many occasions we were bored out of our minds. We would run around making noise and annoying the gallery attendants. I've lost count of the amount of times I was taken to a big white room with nothing in it. 

We've heard a rumour that the children in the  book are real...did you always know you would use real models?
I needed to find a new style to illustrate the book, so as to stop Penguin books from coming after me. So I chose a popular 1960s method favoured by Ladybird artist Harry Wingfield- children were dressed and photographed in various poses. I then created collages with the photography, and painted in watercolour and gouache over the collages. This creates a surreal 1960s photo-realistic style, with a subtly warped collage perspective.

The two children live about ten miles from each other in north Yorkshire. I found them by trawling through casting agency photos, which took a lot longer than expected. The two successful children came down to London, and we spent the day shooting them in period clothes at The Cob Gallery. The poor little boy was in a lot of pain, because the brown lace up shoes we found were about three sizes too small! In the end I let him pose bare feet and adjusted the compositions accordingly. 

I think the visual appearance of 'Mummy' in the book represents everything my mother was rebelling against at the time, that suffocating 60s conformity. That's why it makes her laugh so much. In some ways that conformity is coming back into fashion, which the book challenges in quite a head-on way.

We learnt lot’s of new words in the book, thank you. Do any of the 3 word groups have a particular resonance and which group is your favourite? We have an affection for Rabbit Half Happy.
'Waterfall Death Toilet'. Ezra and I curled up on the floor laughing for ten minutes when that one came out. And 'Capitalist Play Balloon.' Simple, effective, and succinct. 

If you'd like to pick up a copy of We Go to the Gallery you can buy the book online or shop in-store at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.