In the novel Animal Farm (1943), George Orwell tells a story about animals that rebelled against their master. Later, some of them acting under the guise of efforts for a better common future, turned into exploiters and executioners of their fellow animals. The farm is located in the English countryside, although Orwell intended his novel to be a critique of the Stalinist political system in the Soviet Union, as well as a critique of every exploitative, totalitarian political system and actually also a critique of interpersonal, hierarchical, economic relations in larger or smaller social groupings anywhere in the world. That is why Orwell’s Animal Farm is no less relevant nowadays than it was when it was written. It was first published in Slovene in 1970. In 2014, the publishing house Mladinska knjiga published an illustrated edition of Orwell’s »fairytale« Animal Farm. The twenty-four illustrations that will liven up Orwell’s novel for both adults and younger readers are the work of Peter Shkerl.
Peter Shkerl become known as an illustrator around fifteen years ago, initially with his illustrations for children’s books and picture books. He gradually adapted his artistic solutions, interpretations of motifs and choice of forms to individual challenges. One of the best examples of Shkerl’s work as illustrator that shows his fairytale-imaginative side are his illustrations for the book by Barbara Simoniti Mochvirniki (2012). He received both main Slovenian prizes for illustrators for his illustrations that are a combination of painting and drawing founded on the gradual formation of motifs with drawings and several layers of paint.
For his illustrations for Orwell’s Animal Farm (10 two-sided illustrations, 13 one-sided illustrations, cover drawing) Peter Shkerl decided to make a black and white drawing using Indian ink. In this way he captured the sombre mood of Orwell’s short novel in which the tyrannical pigs use the power of words to seize power and usurp the fruits of the joint efforts of the animal community. He connected the Indian ink drawing with tones applied through brushstrokes, sprinkling small spots of paint and covering some details with red paint, which symbolically emphasises and draws attention to the sinister nature of what is going on. The pigs, Moses the crow, Benjamin the donkey, Boxer the horse, the sheep and other animals are the main heroes of the illustrations and possess certain human characteristics. Some of the illustrations also feature human characters.
The main medium used is Indian ink with which the illustrator succeeds in capturing the liveliness of the story. The protagonists are shown in a slightly stylised, realistic or caricaturised/grotesque interpretation. The lines sometimes connect to form bundles with which the illustrator gives shape to parts of the motif while at the same time creating depth. Similar effects are also created by covering motifs with ink wash. There are some interesting compositions in which the virgin whiteness of the paper has become part of the motif, as well as some unusual perspectives of the motif. The framing of the scene strengthens the dynamic of what is going on. Ink drawing is a coarse medium that can only summarise the detail in an expressive fashion. Shkerl’s illustrations for Orwell’s Animal Farm, which we can call an illustrated book for adults, very effectively combine artistic skill and an ear for the writer’s thought and the illustrator’s own imaginative world.
Translated from Slovenian by Marko Petrovich