The Illustration Cupboard at no 22 Bury Place in St James, London where you'll be 'surprised, relieved and delighted' at what you find.
Last Wednesday 30th August Shaun Tan appeared inside The Illustration Cupboard as quietly and mysteriously as his character Eric and left behind a trail of signatures and delicate bird drawings and magical red flowers that blossomed from his thumbprint inside the covers of the books that were piled everywhere. If you hurry and get there before the 10th September you'll still be in time to see his incredible pencil sketches and prints from Tales from Outer Suburbia, The Bird King, The Arrival, The Lost Thing and The Rabbits - an exhibition that is a magical celebration of quiet mysteries.Shaun Tan himself seems a quiet and mysterious man. He says 'My stories generally begin with images rather than words. One of the joys of drawing is that meaning can be constantly postponed, and there is no pressure to 'say' anything special when working privately in a sketchbook.'
In The Bird King and other sketches we are given access to these private drawings that stem from things as varied as Columbian clay vases, undersea life, the workings of cogs, vistas of trees and aqua-sapiens creatures... all proof of his superb draftsmanship. He is one of those unusual artists who seems able to capture the same spontaneity in the finished work as in the sketch. In the Gallery they hang side by side for this comparison. His work appears free from binding content. He leaves his images and stories open to the viewer's imagination. And like his character Eric looking under a stamp to see what holds it, there's an invitation to ask questions. What's going on here? Or to draw conclusions. Is this plughole actually a flower?
From the age of 6 I walked to school alone, crossing roads and railway tracks, watching chameleons, stopping off to see the tethered elephants in an open field when the circus came to town. Unlike the little girl in his drawing being directed by the water bufflao, they didn't direct me anywhere but they left me curious and asking questions. I'm absolutely convinced Shaun Tan walked to school every day and wasn't ferried in the back of a car. His powers of observation are those of a child's open to every nuance. His stories are not so so much about 'telling' a story as about a curious child asking questions about life. Utterly refreshing and different, he says they are about 'casting loose lines into a random sea trying to hook something substantial.'
And although there is a strong vein of fantasy in Shaun Tan's work, it's grounded in reality. This perfect mesh of both fantasy and reality is obvious in the wordless book The Arrival - a story of being alone in a strange place where everything is nameless and unknown, at times wondrous and at times frightening - where the faces of the people tell you all.
So you might be too late to have a little red burgeoning tree flower inscribed into your book but there's still time to catch the magic of Shaun Tan's work. He might suggest that he casts lines into a random sea, but what you'll find is subtle, amazing and thoroughly substantial.