Monday 23 January 2012

Alice in Wonderland: Roadtrip recollections No.1

Estelle Dudley as Alice in Wonderland 1917
Image copyright of the National Portrait Gallery

I've just come back from my bumper gallery roadtrip to Liverpool where I began by visiting the Tate to see the Alice in Wonderland exhibition.

It's great to see the Tate choosing to do this show; they have created a treasure box with a universal appeal which has lured not only art fans but families and non gallery goers too. Maybe it's because Alice has permeated our culture, inspired artists, writers and even the way we think.

Sparking Alice mania back in it's day, the book has left a never ending legacy of surrealism and childhood imaginings which we still plunder in order to make sense of the world we live in today. It wasn't until I saw this show I realised just how influenced we are by this children's story.

Like all good fairy tales, Alice in Wonderland began with some grains of truth; I saw Dodgson's (or Carroll's dependiong on which way you want to view it) original camera, the Victorian version of Nikon; cutting edge technology, so compact you could box it up and carry not only the machine but the developing equipment with you wherever you went, the exquisite glass bottles of developing fluid labled 'Poison'.

Then there were his photos, children playing, children dressed up as fairy tale characters, or children sleeping, their still black and white forms looking like peaceful corpses one moment, the image of innocence the next. One photograph showed a young girl sitting next to a mirror, her reflection creating another character, suggesting a whole new dimension to be explored. Nothing was quite what it seemed. His adoration of the Liddell sisters was evident in the copious images he produced of the three little girls, Alice Liddell clearly his favourite and eventual muse.

Seeing these artifacts within the deep red velvet room in which they were set, elements of Alice began to take shape, it was like delving into Dodgson's mind and connecting the dots.

I especially enjoyed the room filled with different editions of Alice in Wonderland. When the copyright to the story ceased in 1907 a fever for all things Alice took hold and her image along with those of her companions were seen everywhere. Tea sets, magic lanterns, ornaments and dolls, plays, musicals and photography. It was fascinating to see how different people translated the book into new and individual imaginings.

As early as the 1900's artists were beginning to find favour in the many layers of Alice's adventures; Echoes of the little girl in a dangerous and nonsense world can be seen in the work of Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst. One sculpture by Tanning made from a tactile black velvet looked very much like a teapot from one angle and a cat luxuriantly washing itself from another, the double meaning and uncertainty of the book revealing itself in her work.

Eine Klein Nachtmusik Dorothea Tanning 1946

Moving on through the decades the 60's saw an explosion of psychedelia and mind altering drugs which suited the surreal offerings of Wonderland.

Yayoi Kusama sent out invitations to a naken tea party happening in New York's Central Park at the Alice statue. Idolising the heroine she stated 'When she was feeling down, Alice was the first person to take a pill to feel high'

While I wandered through the maze like layout of the exhibition, I couldn't help but feel a little like Alice myself, as I encountered strange and unsettling characters. A Humpty like being sat atop a lofty perch, a re-animated rabbit moving dream like in it's deceased state, and possibly the most strange, Robert De Niro talking to himself in a mirror as the famous scene from Taxi Driver was projected in double across two walls, drawing De Niro into a four way conversation, or so it seemed.

I left feeling a little hazy, but hungry for more. If I'd found a cake with 'Eat Me' written on it I wouldn't need to be told twice. Such a good day that gave me much to ponder upon.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Happy New Year 2012!

New year and new beginnings, here's a round up of what's happening so far!

I am currently working on a portrait commission for glamourpuss, and sometime fetish model, Fiona. This is a very striking picture and will ooze sex kitten when it is finished. Here's where I was up to just before Christmas;

The thing I love about this picture is the masses of luxurious red hair. It is only blocked in here but you can get an idea of how shiny and vibrant it will look when the painting is finished. The skin only has it's first layer on in this photo. I build up skin tones in layers in order to capture the many colours that the skin holds which helps to give it depth and the illusion of softness.

I've continued with my experiments in embroidery and I'm working on a shoe design inspired by louboutin at the moment;

I found the original image in a magazine where the shoe was covered in crystals (embellishment is big right now!). I've tried to recreate the lushious surface by covering my shoe in a mixture of beads and french knots in different gold threads. The finished piece will show the shoe suspended from a glossy ribbon tied into a bow...  nearly finished.

To see other embroideires I've worked on visit my facebook page HERE

I'm planning a gallery excursion later this month; For Christmas I recieved a brilliant book called Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel. It's a super read if you're interested in the PRB and the sexual chemistry shared by a number of it's members. All this Victorian drama and sizzle has got me hankering to see the real deal so I'm hoping to take a trip to some art galleries over January and see some of the Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces. My first thoughts are The Lady Lever Art Gallery and the Walker Art Gallery, both located in Merseyside and both home to a wonderful collection of original work by the likes of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Holman Hunt to name but a few. I need to do some further research but I hope to take my trip soon!

Image by Rachel Ortas

Finally some art news from Manchester; Cornerhouse is hosting a new six week course on comtemporary visual art, Beyond the Counterculture. If you like your art a little bit seedy, leftfield, kitsch and kooky then this course is for you! Hosted by the publishers of Nude Magazine the course explores subcultures, youth movements and pop culture. Apparently some of the visuals used may be offensive to some, so what better reason to sign up! Find out more and how to join HERE