Mr Chicken: from Paris to St Kilda

A celebratory exhibition in honour of artist, LEIGH HOBBS' latest creations and an array of paintings, drawings and sculpture.

30 June > 09 July 2010

An encounter with Leigh Hobbs, critically-acclaimed childrens' book author and illustrator, whose latest hero, Mr Chicken, is back from Paris and will be visiting St Kilda.

Who is Leigh Hobbs?

All I ever wanted to do – I only had one ambition when I was a kid - was to be an artist.  I always loved drawing. I was fascinated by characters.  My father made a drawing board for me when I was a kid so I could draw in bed before school.  I drew all the time, and I’ve been drawing ever since. From an early age, I also had a real passion for architecture and history, even though I grew up in suburban Melbourne and an Australian country town.  Travelling to Europe never fails to thrill me, and I’m drawn back to see favourite things, but also to discover new ones…  it’s an endless source of inspiration.

I went to art school here in the early 1970s, and didn’t miss a single day in four years; I was so absorbed.  After art school, an animated film I made led to my being invited to work as an artist at Sydney’s Luna Park. I was in charge of the restoration of an antique carousel, and also created two huge character figures for the Park, called Larry and Lizzy Luna (that are now in the collection of The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney).

I did a lot of travelling – as much as I could afford - and that informed the artworks I produced when I returned to Australia and settled in St Kilda.  

Did everything begin with Old Tom?

I’m perhaps best-known for my Old Tom books (there are eight), and the television series made from it, which was a French-Australian coproduction, incidentally.  I never describe Old Tom as a cat; I treat him as if he is a rebellious 7 year-old boy.  His mother, Angela Throgmorton, is the quintessential mother figure, forever bent on socialising her wayward son.  

Since Old Tom, I’ve created an array of subversive characters – not just in books, but in paintings and sculptures too: Horrible Harriet, Fiona the Pig and the ‘freaks’ of 4F for Freaks and last, but certainly not least, the charming Mr Chicken.

So the world’s most beautiful city, Paris, meets the world’s most startling chicken, Mr Chicken...

Indeed!  The inspiration for Mr Chicken goes to Paris occurred when I was drinking champagne with a friend on the Rue du Temple, raving about the beauty of the city – and I said “Imagine if Mr Chicken was here!”  I loved picturing the impact his grotesque presence would have.   He first appeared in "Hooray for Horrible Harriet", but now of course he has ‘flown the coop’.

It’s hard to say anything new or original about the beauty of Paris; everything sounds like a cliché.  Whilst Mr Chicken’s monstrous form dominates the pages, I hope I have nonetheless shown due reverence for the exquisite Parisian landscape.

Why do you think children as well as adults like your books?

Children appreciate the irony in my books, and so do adults.   While the words say one thing, the pictures say something else; they’re quietly subversive.  And they’re anarchic.  I’ve created my books partly as a reaction against the saccharine, ‘cute’ style of a lot of children’s picture books, and adults respond to that.

St Kilda being your home, what is your connection to Paris?

St Kilda was home until fairly recently, when noisy neighbours drove me out. I love St Kilda and that’s how I came to create the colour scheme for the Luna Park entrance, as well as the Spider character on the ride inside. St Kilda has always appealed to artists and still has a European flavour, with some terrific old buildings – The Alliance mansion being one of the best.

Paris gives me a fantastic creative recharge, and I go there as often as I can. It’s lovely to think that Mr Chicken has returned to Paris, via The Louvre Bookshop.


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Thanks for sharing! / Merci pour le partage!


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