Potent Personalities: Sally Mann

Mann’s challenging images of childhood and, by extension, motherhood have become ubiquitous. This post has been long in coming because of the nagging question: How will I ever do justice to this artist’s work? Finally, the release of Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, published by Little, Brown and Co., this May forced my hand and convinced me that I could procrastinate no further. The book is the kind of self-examination that would have made Socrates proud and an enviable genealogical legacy to her entire family.

Sally Mann (neé Munger) was born in 1951 in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Her father, a family physician from an established Texan family, was educated in the North where he met Sally’s mother. This kind of heritage would almost inevitably make Sally a fish out of water in social circles but impress upon her an appreciation for the land itself. She took a serious interest in photography when at The Putney School in Vermont which her two brothers had attended before her. Her father introduced her to the arts and she has fond memories of several books he shared with her. One was The Family of Man (1955) and on only her second roll of film, she shot her first nudes in 1969, inspired by Wynn Bullock’s Child in Forest. For the most part, Sally bares all in her book, but out of respect for one of her subjects who now has a prominent position in a major corporation, she did not reproduce it.

Wynn Bullock - Child in Forest (1951)

Wynn Bullock – Child in Forest (1951)

Two films were produced about Sally, both directed by Steven Cantor. The first, Blood Ties: The Life and Work of Sally Mann (1994), was shot and produced during the furor over the exhibitions of her child nudes and the second, What Remains (2005), gives a much more comprehensive picture of her inspirations and body of work. When I personally learned of the artist’s work, I was naturally impressed by the raw and pristine imagery, but after seeing these films, I admit to falling in love with the humanity of this imaginative and tortured soul. We begin to get an insight into Sally’s attitude about nudity by the fact that in her first two years of life, she obstinately refused to wear clothes. In fact, the assumption that nudity was an integral part of everyday childhood caused her to overstate in interviews the number of photos that existed of her in a state of undress. After a careful review, she was compelled to amend the record. Some of the photographs of young Sally reveal some of the striking characteristics to be seen later in her own children.

Steven Cantor - What Remains (2005) (1)

Steven Cantor – What Remains (2005) (1)

After high school, she opted to attend Bennington College, deciding that she was not cut out for one of the more urban schools. She met Larry Mann during a Christmas visit home in 1969 and they were married six months later. During their early years together, they traveled throughout Europe on a thin shoestring budget, much to the consternation of Larry’s socially ambitious parents. And even after visiting some of the most beautiful places in Europe, the couple felt nothing held a candle to Rockbridge County so they moved there for good in 1973. Sally shares a rich tapestry of family history including how her father first bought the land and how she later bought out her brothers’ shares so that it could become the Mann estate.

It seems remarkable in retrospect, but at first, Sally did not consider her children suitable subjects for art photography. She did the usual photos that parents are expected to make, but they were snapshots and not done with an artist’s eye. Sally has always respected the presence of serendipity in the creative process and in 1985, one of her biggest took place. Emmett, Sally’s eldest child, was born in 1980 and then Jessie came in 1981. With the birth of Virginia, she fancied that she should capture the event on film. Unfortunately, the exposure time needed to compensate for the poor lighting meant that Virginia’s entry into the world was a blur—”a dud”. A few months later, Sally took what she considered her first good family picture, Damaged Child, of Jessie’s swollen face from insect bites. She got the idea from the title of a Dorothea Lange photo Damaged Child, Shacktown,Elm Grove, Oklahoma (1936). As she continued her efforts in this vein, she began to realize that she was blessed with children of potent character. Even so, none of this would have materialized without an attitude shift. It is perhaps within the most mundane material that we find the sublime.

Sally Mann - Damaged Child (1984)

Sally Mann – Damaged Child (1984)

Sally’s family photographs are a mixture of spontaneity and deliberate composition. For example, here we can see her directing Virginia to get one of her shots.

Steven Cantor - Blood Ties (1994) (1)

Steven Cantor – Blood Ties (1994) (1)

Sally Mann - At Warm Springs (1991)

Sally Mann – At Warm Springs (1991)

On the other hand, when she sees something she just has to capture she asks the child to hold still until she can get her camera set up. These are precarious times because as time passes, some of the spontaneity is lost and the strain of holding the pose adds to the intensity of the posture and facial expression. In one of Sally’s favorite images, she had the camera nearby and was able to shoot The Perfect Tomato. The strange title was the product of haste; the tomatoes were the only thing in focus in the shot. The lens flare was a happy accident that gave the subject an angelic quality. In Blood Ties, Jessie described her memory of how it happened.

Steven Cantor - Blood Ties (1994) (2)

Steven Cantor – Blood Ties (1994) (2)

Sally Mann - The Perfect Tomato (1990)

Sally Mann – The Perfect Tomato (1990)

In 2000, Melissa Harris interviewed Jessie Mann who was preparing for her freshman year in college. Among other things, she spoke about the nature of her relationship with her mother.

When we were taking pictures, it created a relationship with Mom that’s very different from other people’s relationships—much more powerful…Because there already is a very powerful bond, then add to that the bond between artist and subject…On top of being our mother, she became a whole lot more. So that made our relationship stronger, but of course more complicated. -Jessie Mann, 2000 (Aperture No. 162, Winter 2001)

The combination of an artist’s eye and a desire to get the image just right created a kind of ambivalence within the family. On the one hand, it is flattering to get so much attention, but getting the image right sometimes meant a seemingly interminable effort. In the case of the image The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude, 1987, when she first saw Emmett in the water, she did the usual and asked him to hold still. Shot after shot did not come out to Sally’s satisfaction and over the next 7 or 8 days, Emmett patiently followed his mother’s instructions until everything was right: the light, the reflection in the water, the eye level, Emmett’s position in the water, Emmett’s position in the frame and the right pose and facial expression. The title, which later came to have a double meaning, was meant to express the exasperation after such an ordeal. Several versions were reprinted in Hold Still to illustrate this process.

For the most part, Larry and the kids were good sports and for that reason, Sally has to give equal credit to her subjects for the successful collaboration. But sometimes, as Emmett remarked, whenever one of them noticed that look in their mother’s eyes—when she suddenly “saw” a picture—if one was not in the mood for another photo session, one had better make himself scarce. Or if there was no way out of it, the kids could torment their mother in more subtle ways. The top shot of all three kids appeared on the cover of Immediate Family, but the bottom illustrates one of the variations where the girls have softer facial expressions. Emmett confessed later that during this shoot, he was moving his body ever so slightly forward and back to keep his mother from getting the perfect focus.

Sally Mann - Emmett, Jessie and Virginia (1989) (and variant)

Sally Mann – Emmett, Jessie and Virginia (1989) (and variant)

Despite these battles of will, the family members recognize that Sally brings out something special in the seemingly ordinary.

…She sees the world in images. -Larry Mann (What Remains, 2005)

It’s almost like she sees something happening and she just thinks to herself, “I know that this is special—what I’m seeing right here.” -Emmett Mann (What Remains, 2005)

When you’re around an artist all the time, you’re always reminded of what’s beautiful and what’s special, and you can’t forget it. -Jessie Mann (Aperture, No. 162, Winter 2001)

I think what makes Mom different is that she can look at the same object that I would consider pretty commonplace and ordinary, but she’ll make a print of it and suddenly I’ll see the beauty of it. -Virginia Mann (What Remains, 2005)

When Immediate Family was published in 1992, Sally assumed it would be greeted with moderate acclaim just like her previous work, At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (1988).

Sally Mann - At Twelve (c1984)

Sally Mann – At Twelve (c1984)

The family was not prepared for the explosive sales and the notoriety that came. Listening to the detractors, one might come away with the impression that Sally published the work without regard to the feelings and reputations of her family, but this was far from the truth. The children were consulted about their favorites and which images they objected to. Never was nudity at issue and Larry mediated to make sure the children were not just trying to please their mother. For example, Emmett vetoed an image (Emmett Asleep, 1985) because, at the time, he was pretending to be Bugs Bunny and was wearing white stockings on his arms. Given his age, he was concerned about looking like a dork. Another candid image was of Virginia entitled Pissing in the Wind. Now that they are grown up, they can appreciate these images for what they are, candid moments of family life and these two examples were reprinted in Hold Still. Sometimes Sally censored herself as in The Bent Ear. With Jessie’s thin figure and the strain of waiting for the camera to be set up, Sally thought the picture made her look like a torture victim and was simply too painful to look at.

Sally Mann - The Bent Ear (1989)

Sally Mann – The Bent Ear (1989)

When the letters came in, Sally was surprised at the range of comments. In her characteristic fastidiousness, she sorted them into For, Against and What the Fuck? Although a sense of humor was undoubtedly helpful, the one ray of light was that more than half the letters were positive. It is tempting for visually literate people to write off any negative comments as narrow-minded and not worthy of acknowledgment. Whatever the interpretation, what was happening was a kind of culture clash. Nudity seems to be a natural mode of expression for the liberal-minded proponents of counterculture; and just as there are clothing-optional parks and beaches, there are bound to be many households that observe this custom as well.

The real breakthrough in Hold Still is that Sally makes the context of the land paramount in the interpretation of the pictures. Within this context, these images make perfect sense and without it, they seem bizarre at first glance. The land that the Manns owned was a secluded plot surrounded, unusually, on three sides by the Maury River. Even in the most difficult of times, the family felt safe there away from the madness and ridicule of society—without radios, without television and without computers.

How natural was it in that situation, to allow our children to run naked? Or, put another way, how bizarre would it have been to insist on bathing suits for their river play, which began after breakfast and often continued long after dark, when all three would would dive like sleek otters for glow sticks thrown in the pool under the still-warm cliffs? -Sally Mann (Hold Still, 2015)

For the most part, Sally would avoid looking at the almost endless barrage of reviews. She was an artist, after all, and would not want her art to be tainted by the influx of public opinion. But occasionally, something would come across her radar and one review in particular was devastating in its thoughtlessness and self-righteousness. It was an editorial by Raymond Sokolov, a food critic of all things, published in the Wall Street Journal in February 1991. Ostensibly about government funding of the arts, it took the opportunity to ridicule and mutilate an image published on the cover of the Fall 1990 issue (No. 121) of Aperture. Virginia happened to see it and was very upset about being “crossed out”. For a time, she became extremely self-conscious about her body and even wanted to wear shorts and a shirt in the bathtub the following night. In an attempt at a kind of psychotherapy, a photo shoot was conducted to make a light-hearted mockery of the censorship.

Virginia at 4 (1989) ; Sokolov Article, Wall Street Journal (1991); Virginia's Letter to the Editor (1991)

Virginia at 4 (1989) ; Sokolov Article, Wall Street Journal (1991); Virginia’s Letter to the Editor (1991)

Sally Mann - (Untitled) (1991)

Sally Mann – (Untitled) (1991)

To Sally, her family photographs were partly therapeutic. She would take every mishap and exaggerate it into a worst-case scenario to help alleviate her own anxieties about motherhood and as a kind of sympathetic magic to prevent the worst from actually happening. Whether this actually worked is a matter of perspective. Both Jessie and Emmett are only alive today because of stokes of good fortune, Jessie having been born premature and in guarded condition for an extended period and Emmett surviving a car impact that ought to have killed him.

Sally Mann - Jessie's Cut (1985)

Sally Mann – Jessie’s Cut (1985)

As statistics will bear out, whenever there is a large group of people, a tiny percent are bound to be weirdos. Two particular individuals stand out in Sally’s memory and their tales are told in the book. A few years into their marriage, Larry’s mother, who lived in Connecticut, murdered her husband and then killed herself. Because the couple was respected in the community, the police did not really conduct a full investigation and quickly closed the case. Sally fancied she’d investigate further on her own and called the police to request a copy of the case file. Strangely, the police had the file readily at hand. The reason was that they were receiving strange letters from someone in Richmond with fanciful suggestions of foul play. It turned out to be the mother of a disgruntled artist, envious of Sally’s fame. The other was a man who became love-sick for the Mann children. He would track down family members, neighbors and institutions for any scrap of information about them such as birth certificates, school events and grades. The FBI became involved but informed the family that since this man did not make any threats and had not trespassed onto the property, nothing could be done. The family decided not to go public with this information until now based on the notion that they should not dignify the efforts of this man. Ironically, in their diligence to keep a wary eye out, this man came up in family conversations more often than blood kin. In a sense, he got his most fervent wish as his specter was a constant presence in the house.

Perhaps the most hurtful type of negative criticism was that Sally was a bad mother. This put her in an intractable position as no mother is perfect, but with the public scrutiny, every little thing would be interpreted as some shortcoming. As mentioned before, mother and children are all strong-willed people and there were the usual conflicts as is bound to happen in any family. Sally was apparently not physically affectionate with her children and so there are signs that they sought other forms of comfort. Jessie, for example, developed a drinking problem which she has been managing. After reflection, the children now recognize that their mother expressed her love through her art and gifted them with a sense of their beauty. For this reason, each of the children are consistently very protective of their mother and defend her as necessary. And Sally has her regrets as well, like the time Jessie refused to eat her flounder and was made to sit there all night until she finished it.

Sally Mann - (Untitled) (c1986)

Sally Mann – (Untitled) (c1986)

Fame is a two-edged sword, but it would be unfair to blame its negative effect on an artist who could never have anticipated it. She reasonably assumed that quality work would eventually get recognized by cultured people—but slowly. Sally’s notoriety sometimes interfered with schoolyard relationships because other kids would tease them or other parents objected to their mother’s work. With this kind of fame, what room is there for the children to find their own place in the world? Once Emmett and Jessie were in college, they started talking to each other about their childhood in a kind of exclusive support group; who else would understand their experiences? And should they parlay their mother’s fame to their own benefit? Another effect of all this attention is that one can get used to it. In the film What Remains, Jessie talks about being a kind of modeling junkie. Whenever someone wanted to do a photo shoot of her, she just couldn’t say no. On the other hand, Virginia, being much younger, had a slightly different perspective, hoping simply to fit in and get on with her life.

All the while, in the background of all this drama, was the land. One can see Sally’s interest in the family photographs wane as the children became smaller and smaller in the background of these timeless landscapes.

Sally Mann - Sempervirens "Stricta" (1995)

Sally Mann – Sempervirens “Stricta” (1995)

A theme that permeates Sally’s retrospective is death. She learned that her father collected art that featured portrayals of death and analyzing Southern culture, Sally feels there is always an undercurrent of death, as though it were a familiar companion. This is an understandable reflection of all the blood shed on battlefields and the brutal use of Africans and their descendants in the building of the South.

There were two events in Sally’s life that precipitated two of her projects. The first was the death of one of her beloved greyhounds, Eva. She could not bear to bury her and so, over time, she studied her pet’s decomposing remains. Even the smallest fragment of bone seemed to evoke memories of Eva. She became fascinated about what happens to bodies when they decay and was given permission to photograph bodies at a facility where they study decaying bodies in the open. The results of her work appeared in the book, What Remains (2003). The other event was the killing of an escaped convict on the family compound. When the authorities finally cleared out, she stared at that place contemplating the dichotomy of death and renewal. While the land indiscriminately recycles, the memories of death linger in the writings and minds of human beings. This prompted a visit to the great battlefields of the South to capture this sentiment on film, culminating in the book Deep South (2005). And as if there were not already enough presence of decay in Sally’s life, Larry was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy in which the muscles waste away. Fortunately, Larry had a well-developed physique to start with so it would take longer for the condition to be debilitating. For most men, this kind of indignity would cause him to hide his disease, but instead Larry has generously allowed Sally to photograph him and his condition as time passes in a project calls ‘Proud Flesh’.

Another expression of Sally’s fascination with the past is that she processes her own negatives and has practiced a number of antiquarian techniques. She likes the feel of handling the materials, much as Julia Margaret Cameron did. Also like Cameron, she welcomes the serendipitous flaws that are rejected in a professional process: dust getting on the plate or laminate peeling on the negative in just the right place. Using older techniques also means longer exposure times and in her series, ‘Faces’, she asked her grown up children to hold still for various 3-minute exposures. The flaw in this image gives the impression of soapy tears.

Sally Mann - Faces No. 10 (2004)

Sally Mann – Faces No. 10 (2004)

A manifestation of the superficiality of society is that if a gallery can’t make money on art, they aren’t interested. Sally was disheartened that no New York gallery would exhibit ‘Faces’ and she later found an excellent venue in Washington DC which made it possible for friends and neighbors to view it. This project also became a kind of personal discipline. Sally admits to being a nervous and frenetic person by nature and so has challenged herself to produce self-portraits that require her to hold still for 6 minutes while she exposes the plate.  This development is also a result of the fact that her children are no longer on hand to model

Steven Cantor - What Remains (2005) (2)

Steven Cantor – What Remains (2005) (2)

Having both Southern and Yankee blood, Sally was exposed to the best and worst of both cultures. She embraced the philosophy behind the Civil Rights movement, but she herself was raised by a black woman she knew as Gee-Gee. The day-to-day management of the household was done by this woman and she made sure Sally was fed, dressed and ready for school. Sally’s contemplation of the role of black people in the South made her wonder about this alien lifestyle and upbringing—so utterly different from her own. In an effort to explore this “otherness”, she recently embarked on a project to photograph the bodies of black men. To bring out the truth in her subjects, she keeps things as anonymous as possible. She does not ask them about their lives and she does not share any particulars about herself except what she requires of them. After about an hour, they part company.

From time to time, Sally—sometimes with the kids—would review the family photographs. She shares an interesting theory about the interplay of memory and photography. Not really remembering her own childhood, she has relied on photographs and other artifacts to reveal her own past. It is as though the ability to record things photographically diminishes our capacity to remember. Historians have noted something similar after the invention of mechanical printing and the development of popular literacy centuries ago. In her Aperture interview, Jessie expressed a sense of disembodiment about her old pictures, a feeling that they are not really of her. This makes some sense since we are not the same people we were as children and here the images are not just family snapshots, but partly constructions from their mother’s imagination. An anecdote about Jessie takes place when she was dressing for an exhibition of the the family pictures. She realized that a sleeveless top she was considering would expose her chest if she raised her arms and so she rejected the garment. A friend remarked how odd it was that she should be concerned since there would be numerous photos showing her chest at the show. Then Jessie responded, “Yes, but that is not my chest. Those are photographs.” Children can indeed distinguish between the production of an image and the real thing.

Sally Mann - White Skates (1990)

Sally Mann – White Skates (1990)

Sally Mann - Holding the Weasel (1989)

Sally Mann – Holding the Weasel (1989)

Many today might feel that Sally Mann and her family have been vindicated. They rode the rough waters of celebrity and controversy, the adult children continue to make their way in life and Sally is still pursuing her art. But one unrecognized effect of the thoughtless rhetoric has been that many good family photos have still not reached the public. This subject was discussed in What Remains, but whenever the family mulled over the possibility of another book or exhibition, there was the inevitability of answering the same tiresome questions and they became discouraged. Perhaps someday we will see them when our society respects real artists and galleries regard them as more than just an opportunity to make money.

A favorite image of mine is Steven Cantor’s parting shot in Blood Ties. In it, Virginia is saying that she wishes her mother would take a picture of her right now.

Steven Cantor - Blood Ties (1994) (3)

Steven Cantor – Blood Ties (1994) (3)

Thank you Virginia, Jessie, Emmett, Larry and Sally for your courage, generosity and irrepressible human spirit.  -Ron

Sally Mann photography (official site): some of the unseen family photographs may be coming to light here.

Jessie Mann (official site)

Pigtails posted a this delightfully irreverent image a while back.

An excellent collection of reproductions of Sally Mann’s work were published in a Christie’s catalog for an auction held on October 7, 2009 and copies have been sold on the secondary market.

I have done my best to give a good overview of this artist, with an emphasis on the children, but Mann’s work is such a linchpin to many issues regarding art, child rearing, nudity, psychology, social justice, commerce and privacy that these will have to be discussed in a supplement post later.

[160108] A colleague has informed me of a scholarly article about the Mann photographs entitled “Public/Private Tensions in the Photography of Sally Mann” by Sarah Parsons.  It is worth a look for anyone interested in the work of this artist and how it has affected the family dynamic. -Ron

Alice: A Personal View

It was my intent after publishing the Graham Ovenden post to then move on to his other relevant work. However, while considering his book, Illustrators of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” (1972), I was urged to cover a much more comprehensive volume recently published, Illustrating Alice: An international selection of illustrated editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass published by Artists’ Choice Editions in 2013.

I wanted to call this post ‘The Definitive Alice’ but the book itself admonishes its readers from regarding it that way. It is a fair argument because, after all, it only covers illustration despite including a lot of discussion about the stories and their interpretation. And instead of trying to be thorough in covering all views, we get a wonderful spectrum of personal anecdotes and revelations from artists, collectors and other lovers of Alice lore including the more prominent members of Lewis Carroll societies around the world.

Given that a definitive book on Lewis Carroll’s two stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), would require a multi-volume encyclopedia, Illustrating Alice does remarkably well, bringing out many imaginative key points. The Alice stories (and their ethnic adaptations) have been published in over 100 languages and, in proportion to total word count, are more often quoted in published works than the plays of Shakespeare. Illustrating Alice has an interesting organization. First, some discussion of Alice in different countries is offered, then numerous living illustrators were asked to discuss their experiences and views. There is also some discussion of film adaptations. For serious Alice lovers, this book is an important reference and I offer a more detailed outline of the contents of the book at the end of this post.

With respect to offering fresh interpretations of Alice, it should be recognized how challenging it has been to see past Sir John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations in the original books and to fruitfully psychoanalyze Carroll’s original intent.

Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Sir John Tenniel - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Sir John Tenniel – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Due to copyright rules, new versions of Wonderland could not be produced by other publishers until 1907 (and Looking-Glass until 1946). In the U.K. there were already 30 new editions by the end of 1908. Millicent Sowerby had the distinction of being the first to have her illustrations published. Publishers would gradually compete to produce the most opulent editions. W.H. Walker was the first to include scenes not given in the original Tenniel and Harry Rountree had the record for the most color images published, 92. Two of the most popular editions were by Raphael Tuck: one based on early Mabel Lucie Attwell work in 1910 and then a more innovative approach in 1921 based on the work of A.L. Bowley giving us the first examples of pop-ups and a panorama scene with slots to place each of the supplied cut-out characters.

Arthur Rackham - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Arthur Rackham – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

During World War II, there was a dearth of publishing because of paper rationing. One notable exception was the work of Mervyn Peake. He produced illustrations for both Alice books which were first published in Sweden in 1946, then in the U.K. in 1954. His images, considered among the best by many experts, were modeled after a neighbor girl named Caroline Lucas who, he believed, had just the right qualities. The high regard for his work is exemplified by a quote from Graham Greene, “You are the first person who has been able to illustrate the book since Tenniel.” This is even more remarkable when one considers that Greene was generally opposed to the idea of illustrating great literature at all. The work has since appeared in many editions while the original art deteriorated from neglect.

Libanus Press was later commissioned by Bloomsbury Publishing to take up the challenge of scanning the original drawings and putting in about 240 hours of computer work to restore them. The results were published in 2001 and shortly thereafter Libanus published them with the title Peake’s Alice in actual size each accompanied by an appropriate quote. One of the first artists to break through the Tenniel paradigm was Ralph Steadman in 1967, with a freer and highly political take on the story. In the 1970s, Alice became a kind of poster child for the Ruralists, symbolizing an appeal to nature. The most notable of those were by Peter Blake and Graham Ovenden—the Ovenden works being bound into a volume with only 10 copies in existence. This incredible range of production is indicative of the fact that illustration seems to be the last art form that can be produced without need of government grants or powerful patronage.

Mervyn Peake - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

Mervyn Peake – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

In the early days in France only the images of Tenniel and Arthur Rackham were seen. In 1930, the first native illustrator, Marie Laurencin, was published in a limited edition (790) with six colored lithographs. As Alice was assimilated into other cultures, her character would change. Henry Morin (1935) drew an Alice who seemed ill at ease while André Pécoud (1935) portrayed a more mischievous Alice who took delight in her adventures. Nicole Claveloux’s (1974) work is considered a watershed of modern French illustration offering a non-conformist Alice and a special affinity for the animal characters in the story. Her plate with the flamingos became so iconic that it was the basis of a postage stamp in Czechoslovakia. Jean-Claude Silbermann (2002) gives a highly surreal interpretation while Pat Andrea (2006), a noted artist of erotic women, necessarily makes Alice a young woman.

Marie Laurencin - Alice in Wonderland (1930)

Marie Laurencin – Alice in Wonderland (1930)

The first Alice stories in Italy were adapted by Teodorico Pietrocòla-Rossetti—nephew of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and a friend of Carroll—in 1872. This edition was not well-received. The first book featuring an Italian illustrator, Riccardo Salvadori, came out in 1913. Because there was not an established culture of children’s literature in Italy yet, Salvadori’s work, imitating that of Arthur Rackham, meant that this genre was strongly influenced by the Anglo-Saxon imagination. In 1938, under fascism, Carroll’s Alice books were banned. Any publisher wishing to publish had to follow certain guidelines. Perhaps the most famous version was illustrated by Enrico Mercatali (1938) who introduced an older dark-haired girl consistent with the appearance of local girls. In the 1950s, the blond Alice reappeared, partly as a backlash to fascist rules and partly because of the popularity of Disney’s animated film in 1951. In the 1970s, Gianni Celati (1978) used Alice as a symbol of counter-culture and Antonio D’Agostini (c1975) gave a psychedelic interpretation which fits well with Carroll’s fantastical imagery.

Enrico Mercatali - (Exact title unknown) (1938)

Enrico Mercatali – (Exact title unknown) (1938)

During the publishing of the Alice stories, the United States was generally regarded as an ugly stepchild of Britain and something of a rogue nation when it came to respecting copyright. A print run regarded as unsatisfactory by Carroll was sent to the U.S. in 1865. At least half a dozen companies sold pirated editions between 1892 and 1907 before the official expiration of copyright. They all used the Tenniel illustrations but would hire an illustrator for the cover and maybe a frontispiece. Interestingly, the Thomas Crowell edition in 1893 included the first instance of an Alice in a blue frock which became established as her signature color; all images and merchandise approved by Carroll had required the girl to be in a corn-yellow dress. A few publishers did use original work by American illustrators. Blanche McManus was distinguished as the first in 1899 for her husband’s company and Peter Newell in 1901, whose characters display an amusing array of facial expressions and interactions. M.L. Kirk’s rendition in 1904 is somewhat conventional but uses the correct color for Alice’s dress.

After the copyright expired, the floodgates opened and a number of notable American illustrators had their work published including Bessie Pease Gutmann (1907), a single illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith (1923) and Willy Pogány (1929). Walt Disney was obsessed with the story of Alice for a long time, experimenting with various treatments and designs until finally producing the somewhat unsatisfactory film in 1951. The film’s popularity had a stifling effect on innovation in the following decades. David Hall’s paintings and drawings for Disney in the 1930s did finally see the light of day in 1986 and Mary Blair’s concept art for the original film was the basis for a 2008 book.

Perhaps the first satisfactory book after this stagnant period was published in 1982, illustrated by Barry Moser and intended for adult readers. He may have been a bit gun shy of portraying the now iconic Alice and she appears only in the first and last pages as though the reader were observing things from her point of view. A number of prolific and imaginative artists have worked on Alice since then and are really too numerous to name here. An interesting historical note is that the first comic book, a distinctly American art form, was published in 1929 by George Delacorte whose fortune was later used to fund the statue in Central Park. To date, the only edition to be illustrated by a Canadian, George Walker, was produced in 1988 and may also have the distinction of being the last to be set by hand.

Bessie Pease Gutmann - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Camille Rose Garcia - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

Camille Rose Garcia – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

U.S. fans and collectors of Lewis Carroll paraphernalia contributed substantially to the scholarship and preservation of the author’s work. Lessing J. Rosenwald donated a handwritten and self-illustrated manuscript of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures under Ground to the Library of the British Museum in 1948 which can now be viewed in its entirety online.  A copy of ‘The Wasp in a Wig’, a lost chapter to Looking-Glass, was discovered and published in 1972 and Morton Cohen’s biographical research on Carroll is considered to be definitive.

Alice was first introduced to Brazil by Monterio Lobato in the early 1930s using original illustrators (Tenniel and Bowley). He started with an illustration of a fantasy world including Wonderland, Neverland etc. and one from his own stories which translates as “Yellow Woodpecker Ranch”. A number of artists have used collages made from everyday materials to add cultural texture to their work. An example is Helena de Barros (Helenbar) who sewed her own dress and incorporated herself in her images.

Helenbar - A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

Helenbar – A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

The popularity of Alice in Japan cannot be understated. In fact, the Alice books and associated merchandise are now so popular that it could be said to be an industry in and of itself. The first Japanese illustrator was Shotaro Kawabata (1908). Kawabata imitated Tenniel somewhat but substituted Japanese everyday articles for Europeans ones. Often these treatments were introduced in magazine form rather than stand-alone books. The benefit seems to be that new artists, both writers and illustrators, have an easier way to become established and recognized.

Tsubakibana “Chinka” Yoshimura (1911) was probably the first to illustrate Alice using strictly Japanese patterns, techniques and composition principles. The early portrayal of Alice had a curious character. Because, in Japanese culture, girls have no real transition from childhood to adulthood, girls were portrayed as very young or very mature. Girl children were expected to act very dependent until a certain age and then suddenly expected to be responsible. The idea of a transitional coming-of-age girl was new and explored seriously only in post-war interpretations. Takashi Saida (1925) was perhaps the first to create a middle class Alice with the right balance of sophistication and uncertainty seen in the English versions. In the 1930s, the rising tide of nationalism and militarism influenced the expression in children’s books and there was a decline in sweet and innocent portrayals until after the war when all constraints on style and interpretation were obliterated. The first expression of Alice as a nymphet was in 1974 by Kuniyoshi Kaneko and many have carried on this theme, exploring Alice’s emerging sexuality.

Takashi Saida - ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Takashi Saida – ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Mainland China had a strange ordinance in 1930 which banned Alice on the silly notion that because the animals talked, it put them on the same level as human beings. Also mentioned in the text is the mystery of a strange edition produced in a short run in Inner Mongolia that seems to defy Chinese convention. Writers and artists are not usually credited in Chinese Communist publications. However, this adaptation not only gives this Taiwanese illustrator credit, but seems to be observing a more international form of copyright law.

Shi Huimin - 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

Shi Huimin – 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

In 1879, the first translation of Alice into Russian appeared featuring the art of Tenniel. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for this new literature and a number of editions were produced before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Under Soviet domination and particularly under Stalin, artists were regarded as engineers of utopian society rather than challengers of societal norms. Carroll’s works were banned outright simply because they emphasized fantasy and nonsense rather than serving a moral purpose—expressing Socialist Realism. Artistic institutions were integrated as government unions so no rogue artist could ever hope to get a commission or be published without state sanction. The principles of Soviet Communism continued to have a hold on the artistic process even after Stalin’s death.

There seemed always to be an attempt to bring a kind of order to chaos, either literally as in Aleksandr Dodon’s (2001) framing of the text with his illustrations or in some metaphorical way, making Alice the arbiter of morality in Wonderland and the Looking-Glass worlds. The fact that both stories take place in a template of game playing (cards and chess) gave Russian artists the comfort of structure and the application of rules. Julia Gukova’s illustrations break through this convention by making Alice more an integral part of Wonderland, undermining her ability to pass judgment on these dream worlds. The Russian truism that there is no absolute truth in narrative is perhaps the unifying theme of work in the region.

V.S. Alfeevsky - Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

V.S. Alfeevsky – Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

Aleksandr Dodon - Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

Aleksandr Dodon – Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

The first translation of Wonderland into Polish was in 1910 which included images by Tenniel mixed with an anonymous artist. The effect was confusing since the artist made no effort to match Tenniel’s design or style. It had only one edition and was quickly forgotten. Two later translations/illustrations that did have a lasting impact were by Kamil Mackiewicz (1927) and Olga Siemaszko (1955). As a caricaturist, Mackiewicz’s illustrations predictably exaggerated distinguishing traits of its characters.

A 1955 version was written by Antoni Marianowicz adhering to Communist cultural policy; any reference to class distinctions had to be toned down or reinterpreted. The particular genius of this work is that the English cultural references and poems were replaced outright by Polish ones that readers could relate to. And since Marianowicz was a humorist, this version was certainly more humorous than the original. Siemaszko also illustrated a 1969 version and there is a noticeable refinement in her technique. Most later Polish editions used mostly foreign illustrators and so there appears to be no distinctive Polish style. Only after the fall of Communism did native artists start to come to the fore. Ironically, some of the most recent editions again make use of the Tenniel drawings and so the younger generation is likely to have the same visual associations with the Alice books as their grandparents.

Olga Siemaszko - Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

Olga Siemaszko – Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

After discussing illustrations, the book covers film treatments of Alice. The most interesting is an essay by Jan Švankmajer who describes his relationship to Alice and how, in combination with his own childhood, it inspired the production of an independent film. His first foray into Carroll’s world was a 1971 film based on the poem Jabberwocky. He describes it as an imaginative history of his childhood up to the point when he rebelled against his father. The film opens with a child’s voice (his own daughter, Veronika, then aged 9 in the Czech version) quoting from Looking-Glass. Because the censors saw the film as containing political allegories, it was banned in Czecholslovakia and he made an English version in 1973 which traveled the globe. Only in 1989, was the original film finally seen in his home country.

Another film, inspired somewhat by Alice, was Down in the Cellar (Do pivnice, 1983) about a girl sent to the cellar to fetch potatoes and what happens to her there. Although the film was completed, it did not see the light of day for a number of years due again to censorship. Švankmajer emphasizes the importance of the dream imagery in our human development, a trait that has been long neglected because it served “no moral purpose”.

Finally, he decided to attempt Alice (Něco z Alenky ,1988). The filmmaker wanted to emphasize dream imagery but reminds us that dreams are also filled with familiar objects. All the voices, appropriately altered, would be done by the same child actress consistent with the theory that we are all the characters in our dreams. The idea is that Alice is the only live person in the film and there are no intrusions of adults in voice or body. The other characters were constructed from everyday objects from Alice’s world. The Czech studios took no interest in his work, so he got financing from foreign companies and enlisted the support of art institutions to give his work credibility. The filming was done using old discarded cameras and editing equipment and in 1986, the first Czech independent film saw the light of day. Then in 2006, a Japanese publisher asked him to illustrate both Alice books and he leapt at the chance.

“Lewis Carroll’s Alice is one of the basic books of this civilization, one of those we should take with us to a desert island, just in order to survive.” –Jan Švankmajer (2011, translated by David Short)

Jan Švankmajer - Alice (1988)

Jan Švankmajer – Alice (1988)

Another essay discusses how Alice lends itself so well to animation. Considering the fantastical nature of the stories, it seems that only this medium would have any hope of effectively portraying these magical worlds. Kamilla Elliott, in her book Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate (2003), has identified over 50 film and television adaptations. As mentioned before, Walt Disney was obsessed with producing Alice very early on and in the 1920s, he experimented with a combination of live action and animation for Alice in Cartoonland. The 1951 film distinguishes itself by featuring an actual child’s voice—that of Kathryn Beaumont who also did Wendy in Peter Pan—as opposed to young women used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.

A number of living artists shared their experiences illustrating Alice and the philosophy behind their approach. Michael Foreman, for example, noticed how few illustrators tried to make Alice look like the original Alice (Liddell). He also made a deliberate effort to distinguish reality (sepia) from dream (color) and insists that the real background for Wonderland must be his native Cornwall. Barry Moser muses how the story is really about loneliness because of how often the words “alone” and “lonely” appear in the text. John Vernon Lord is a stickler and points out that in the actual text, “Mad” is not applied to any particular character but rather all characters in general. Over the years, we have inherited certain assumptions because of past illustrators: the Hatter is mad, the Hatter wears a hat with a price tag on it and that, at the Mad Tea Party, things other than tea are served. Tatiana Ianovskaia observes a lightly etched eroticism implied by the various metaphors of two things being one: most notably, how playing cards are a kind of marriage of two bodies sharing one space. The other artists featured were John Bradley, Chiara Carrer, Emma Chichester Clark, Gavin O’Keefe, DeLoss McGraw, Helen Oxenbury, Ralph Steadman and Justin Todd.

Tatiana Ianovskaia - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

Tatiana Ianovskaia – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

A short afterword, written by Graham Ovenden, comments on the modern estrangement between adults and children and that we are often deprived of the full potential of illustrators’ talent and imagination because of economic considerations.

Some of the contributors have observed some developments in the evolution of children’s books. First of all, they feel that there is a lack of charming little details. There is an assumption that children’s books should have simple illustrations. There also seems to be no adult market for illustrated books except in France and Russia. And one final observation is that with the onset of the digital age, Illustrating Alice may distinguish itself as the last time we see this kind of compilation in hard copy.

This post is quite timely as this year is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Illustrating Alice was published in a run of 500 for the Standard edition (68 for the Special edition which comes with signed prints) and can be purchased through the Inky Parrot Press. This publisher also sells other Alice volumes including a version where each illustration is from a different artist. For those wanting a more comprehensive analysis of the Alice texts and history should read one the editions referred to as The Annotated Alice.

Illustrating Alice summary of contents:

  • Foreword by Marina Vaizey
  • Alice in different countries: Brazil by Adriana Peliano, China by Richard Newnham, England, 1865–1939 by Selwyn Goodacre, England, 1940 to today by Dennis Hall, France by Michèle Noret, Italy by Caterina Morelli, Japan by Mikiko Chimori, Poland by Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, Russia by Ella Parry-Davies, United States and Canada by Mark Burnstein
  • Alice in Film: ‘Alice’ by Jan Švankmajer, ‘Animating Alice’ by Karen Lury
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (artists credited above)
  • Alice Through the Looking-Glass (collected illustrations only, organized by chapter
  • Alice: as through a Glass Darkly (afterword) by Graham Ovenden
  • Alphabetical Checklist of English Language Editions from the lists compiled by Selwyn Goodacre and Edward Wakeling
  • Index of Artists of non-English Language Editions and individual paintings

Becoming-Girl

Brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman began working collaboratively in the very early 1990s.  Their work then, as now, featured mannequins in dark and provocative scenes.  A number of their installations seem to deal with the subject of girls, despite denial by the artists.  The Chapman brothers’ art deals with some heavy ideas and during interviews they quote readily from Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Deleuze.  Jake has discussed being strongly influenced by Georges Bataille’s On Nietzsche, Tears of Eros, and Documents magazine.

Nietzsche had opined in Birth of Tragedy that art redeems life from the terrible truth that existence is a horror.  With the Chapman brothers’ art, this appears to be in a way reversed: something good and beautiful in reality is perverted by art into the horrible.

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) (1995)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) (1995)

“There’s nothing we’ve done here that can rival the darkness of the imaginations of children. They aren’t the innocents that adults want them to be.” – Jake Chapman

The brothers’ alleged aim is to incite political dialogue through provocation, while at the same time acknowledging that transgressing boundaries in modern art is no longer possible.  (Jake Chapman on Georges Bataille: an Interview with Simon Baker.)

A number of critics speculated that Zygotic Acceleration (1995) or Tragic Anatomies (1996) were about the danger of the sexualization of girls: penises and vaginas attached to the faces of the girls and so on.  Despite the death of the author, the brothers nonetheless interjected in the discussion and denied that this is what their collections were about—perhaps sensing that that would truly have been a provocative topic and preferring to stay in the safe-zone of traditional patriarchal politics and sexual discourse as in Sex (2009), which is a scene of torture, or Death (2003) which is a pair of cheap sex dolls cast in bronze.  The brothers go so far as to claim that the life size models are not even girls.

“For example, a journalist said to us, ‘How can you dare do these things to small girls?’ So you think, well, hold on a minute, let’s just take that question apart – why is it a girl? So the journalist replies and says, ‘Well it’s got long hair and freckles.’ OK. When Jake was a little child he had long hair and freckles, does that mean that he was a girl then and now, miraculously, he’s turned into a man because he’s got short hair and his freckles have gone? He says, ‘No, no, you know what I mean.’ We’re like, no, we actually don’t know what you mean. You’re applying rules to something that they don’t actually apply to. This thing is inanimate, it’s made from resin and paint. It bears 90% relationship to a mannequin, and maybe less than 10% to things that you can buy in Ann Summers [a chain of sex-toy shops]. There’s no point at which you can say this is a child. It might look like a child from the back, but from the front it doesn’t. And then the idea that something with an erect penis on its nose could ever be female is also another problem… It’s an attempt to force people to take into account their bad thinking. ‘Zygotic acceleration…,’ for example, it doesn’t work if you say it’s a child or it’s children; I’ve never seen 20 children fused together with adult genitalia on their faces. […] With the full title of that work, ‘Zygotic acceleration, biogenetic, de-sublimated libidinal model (enlarged x 1000),’ the final part tells you that this is not even a child-sized creature” (Jake & Dinos Chapman Interview, David Barett).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

The Chapman brothers insist that Zygotic Acceleration or Tragic Anatomies are really about moral panic and this is expressed via the subject of genetic engineering (Press Release, Jake and Dinos Chapman: Explaining Christians to Dinosaurs).  Meanwhile, Jake and Dinos are aware that their works have gotten away from them, and Jake acknowledges that their Deleuzian-Guattarian collaboration could not have a single author, purpose or meaning (Jake Chapman on Georges Bataille: An Interview with Simon Baker).  And indeed, many critics recognized these girls as sexual.

“In relation to the mutant mannequins, we can also speak of the possibilities of a Bataille-like transgression that is closely tied to the experiences of sexuality and the overcoming of sexual taboos” (Press release, SLEPÝ VEDE SLEPÉHO).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Tragic Anatomies (1996)

“Shocking, no doubt, the piece is also a discomfiting representation of the sexualisation of children, possibly registering either sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or society’s fears about these crimes. Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) is first and foremost a stark way of confronting an audience with a tremendously unpleasant image, alluding to science fiction and medical research and so implicating an aesthetic genre and scientific research in the production of these problematic images; science fiction and scientific research are, respectively, aesthetic and intellectual domains where the horrible and the unsettling become possibilities. Any audience is welcome to view this piece to consider what it says about childhood and sexuality in modern society, providing the audience is willing to see past the piece’s antagonistic visual pun on “in your face” art. […] They usurp childhood innocence with these grotesque hypersexualized plastic replicas, part fashion (mannequins, the signifying sneakers), part “biogenetic” and very disturbing” (John A. Walker and Sarah Chaplin. Visual Culture: An Introduction).

By denying the child sexuality implicit in their work, the Chapman brothers can maintain an artistic respectability and have shows at the Tate gallery, while other artists who have broached the subject of child sexuality and the sexuality of girls have had this possibility taken from them.  The following critic for instance observes how the hideous art of the Chapman brothers maintains its aesthetic value, while by contrast, the beautiful sexualized girls of Graham Ovenden must be bereft of significant value.

“There are a number of contemporary artists who work with controversial imagery, images that when compared to the work of Ovenden (before his conviction), appear much more graphic and overtly perverse. What is it that makes such an extreme form of art no longer suggestive of a lack of moral value? How is it possible that the image of a nude child by Ovenden is worse than a sculpture that at a glance, appears to depict several? Could it be that the extreme nature of works by artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman cause us to no longer associate their work with the human condition, as their work appears so non-human, so detached from our own reality. Their 1995 work Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) is often misread as the sculpture appears to depict nude, gender neutral children with facial deformations resembling genitalia. It appears particularly grotesque, a sort of macabre reoccurring joke between the two brothers‟ works. […] Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) has a higher value than say an image by Ovenden, as it is not about what you see initially, aesthetically, it is how what you see makes you feel; thus making it a better work of art in comparison. The higher the moral value, the higher the artistic integrity, the higher the merit of the artist and the better the work of art. […] In the past, there have been many instances where art has been deemed immoral and unfit for display, where it was put away, hidden from public view or completely destroyed. […] They were decisions made solely on what a group of people thought was either good or bad art. Questioning the moral value of art and the integrity of the artists who created it was in part responsible for the events that took place during World War II. The Nazis began to make their way into all levels of German society” (Tiffany Horan, Does Art Have Moral Value, and If so, Is Such Value Relevant to Its Assessment as Art?)

Another of the Chapman brothers’ projects that involved the defacing of girls was advertized to the public recently with this quote:

“Children are not human yet” (BBC, August 4, 2014).

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

One of the brothers’ installations was at one location, while the other brother showed at a different site, and it was left open as to who created which.  One visitor described the girls as follows:

“The Minderwertigkinder – inferior children (NTS) –  are dressed in black, hoods on, and their back are turned to the entrance. They face One Rabbit Contemplating the Moon (2011) a grimy painting of an extasied cartoon’ish rabbit. The middle of each children’s face is tore apart where a snout, a beak, a trunk bulges out as if in the process of a collective shapeshift. A swastika circled by the message ‘They Teach Us Nothing’ is printed on their jumper – one you can purchase at the entrance.  Up a flight of stairs, one of the Minderwertigkinder – mouse child sits on the ledge of the first floor window. It seems impossible to escape from debilitating dream” (Part #1, Hoxton Square, Jake?)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

Jake and Dinos Chapman – Minderwertigkinder (2011)

The animal feature is described variously as rupturing from the face of the girl or metamorphosing.  Some commentators saw a connection to fairy tales or horror films.  As with the 90s works, is there some redeeming interpretation possible alluding to the Deleuzian-Guattarian “becoming-girl”?  While the Chapmans reject any teleological interpretations of their work, their girl mannequin series might still be read not as an insult to or desecration of the girl, but as an evolutionary pathway through and even the transcendence of girls, who are never static but always in a state of becoming.

“[G]irls do not belong to an age group, sex, order, or kingdom: they slip in everywhere, between orders, acts, ages, sexes; they produce in molecular sexes on the line of flight in relation to the dualism machines they cross right through. […] The girl is like the block of becoming that remains contemporaneous to each opposable term, man, woman, child, adult. It is not the girl who becomes a woman; it is becoming-woman that produces the universal girl. […] The girl and the child do not become; it is becoming itself that is a child or a girl. The child does not become an adult any more than the girl becomes a woman; the girl is the becoming-woman of each sex, just as the child is the becoming-young of every age. […] It is Age itself that is a becoming-child, just as Sexuality, any sexuality, is a becoming-woman, in other words, a girl” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus).

The complete works of Jake and Dinos Chapman can be found at this link.

Construction of Girl Identity

Diyan Achjadi spent her girlhood in Soeharto-era Indonesia before settling on the trendy Canadian West Coast as associate professor of visual arts at Emily Carr University.  Sometime in the early 2000s the idea for her Girl character came to her as an understated and ironic way of commenting on heavy issues.  Her first show set Girl in various hot-topic settings usually in play or where people were naive to the danger or seriousness of the subject.  Achjadi commented,

“I have been particularly interested in the potential of illustrated narratives, and in the ways the fictionalized environments have the potential to unpack real-world situations, and question and critique the world that we physically inhabit. I use a visual vocabulary borrowed from children’s media – toys, books, objects, and other forms of productions aimed at children – which often depicts the adult world in a miniaturized, simplified, and sanitized form, representing it under a guise of play, innocence, and harmlessness.”

Diyan Achjadi – See Girl, 2004

Diyan Achjadi – See Girl, 2004

Shortly thereafter, in the wake of the tsunami that wiped out coastal Aceh in northern Sumatra, Girl became a way for Achjadi to explore impressions of the way reports of disasters were covered far from her new locale.  Distanced from her homeland, Achjadi’s only connection with the enormous things happening in Indonesia was through the internet, television and telephone.  Her Girl works from 2007 through ’09 featured her signature character in the midst of invasions, bombings, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions.  Girl largely maintained her indifferent composure—maybe an allusion to the tidak apa apa resignation of Indonesians or the passive nature of the stereotypical little girl?

Diyan Achjadi – We Expected Hysteria (Hark! Listen), 2009

Diyan Achjadi – We Expected Hysteria (Hark! Listen), 2009

At the end of the decade, Achjadi’s use of Girl shifted again.  Now she began to play with the machinery informing identity.  Achjadi had grown up in a new nation, with shifting boundaries, and threatening to rip apart in violence.  The dictatorial government bombarded the people through every medium with nation-building propaganda.  Achjadi herself was made to participate in considerable flag raising, marching, “group calisthenics” and singing to the glory of her recently manufactured country during her school-girl years.  In retrospect she had a kind of fascination with the process.

Diyan Achjadi – Onward, fearlessly, 2007

Diyan Achjadi – Onward, fearlessly, 2007

As the series progressed, it became deeper, and took on a kind of eerie metaphysical character.  Achjadi writes,

“Girl is both singular and plural: she is a figure that exists in a world populated only by other Girls, seemingly identical in features and dress. Sometimes she is alone and isolated; other times she is multiplied into a perfectly uniform army, marching, saluting, and exercising in formation.”

Diyan Achjadi – Ceremony, 2007

Diyan Achjadi – Ceremony, 2007

Far from cute and innocent, the girl becomes something surreal as endless uniformed girls salute in allegiance to the image of themselves.  The following piece might remind one of the North Korean Mass Games.

Diyan Achjadi – Stadium, 2008

Diyan Achjadi – Stadium, 2008

This all culminates in her “The Further Adventures of Girl” show.  Critic, Malakoteron, wrote quite insightfully on this compilation of works,

“From wall to wall one encounters the face of the iconic ‘girl’ who is multiplied in each medium. She’s a flat and simplified medley of many of the cliches of girlhood rendered into an easy to swallow and mass produced form. Cartoons, posters, flags and little sculptures reminiscent of lawn ornaments all cross reference her figure in a series of reds and lush colours. Sometimes it feels like looking at Dora The Explorer filtered through a post-Superflat version of Maoist propaganda.

It starts out seemingly innocuous, like a little bit of children’s TV and, through its repetition and its re-articulation, gradually becomes obvious as a technique of aggression.

They’re attractive and decorative and this is self-consciously reflected in the work, with the girl waving flags of herself, perfectly enclosed in her own narcissistic paradise. As Momus once said in respect to certain trends in Japanese youth culture, it’s a celebration of ‘cute fascism’.”

Diyan Achjadi – Oboro gallery, 2010

Diyan Achjadi – Oboro gallery, 2010

By her later showings of Girl, it would be difficult for most to intuit a commentary on Indonesian national identity.  At face value, the show had evolved into an analysis of the coding of girl identity itself: the girlification of girls.  But Achjadi does not regard girls as made of “sugar and spice and all things nice”; instead, we are shown a process of violence, mass indoctrination, intimidation, superficial molds and robotic conformity.

And then like almost anything artificially impressed into the living body, it is rejected.  Girl finally screams, gesticulates, riots and rebels against herself; she fights herself, tears herself down and attempts to escape the Girl space.

Diyan Achjadi – Protest, 2011

Diyan Achjadi – Protest, 2011

Diyan Achjadi’s personal site is here,  while she delivers a thorough lecture on Girl at this link.  An animated assemblage of her Girl work is also available.

Elastic Art: Maddie Ziegler and the Sia Videos

Overview

The music video for Sia’s Chandelier dropped on May 6th, 2014, and it immediately invited controversy due to 11-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler’s flesh-tone leotard which, in a certain light, makes her appear to be nude.  Soon after, the video went viral, becoming the seventh most-watched video clip of 2014 on YouTube; it has since amassed over 450 million hits there.  The controversy mostly abated, however, when the video received widespread critical acclaim, with Time magazine’s Nolan Feenay praising Ziegler for the best dance performance of 2014.  It went on to be nominated for both Video of the Year and Best Choreography at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, winning the latter.  It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Music Video.

Despite the controversy—or maybe because of it—the video, directed by Daniel Askill and Sia herself, made its mark, inspiring parodies by the likes of Jimmy Kimmel (he and fellow Jimmy Kimmel Live! cast member Guillermo Rodriquez were even assisted in learning the moves by Maddie herself) and Jim Carrey and Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live.  Maddie—wearing shorts beneath her famous skin-tone leotard—would recreate the video on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, but as is often the case when censorious tinkering of this type occurs, the addition of the shorts oddly seems to make the young dancer look more provocative rather than less.  The sleek, fully nude outfit gives Maddie an almost alien appearance, leaving no doubt as to the artistic intent of the video’s creators, whereas on Ellen’s show, particularly in the dim lighting, the girl looks to be wearing a pair of pale blue panties and nothing else, giving the performance a slightly tawdrier tone.  A note of interest here: when Sia stands offside in the shadows, with her back turned to the audience, she is effectively saying, “This is not about my surface, the side of me that is seen during a performance.”  We will better understand why that is relevant soon.

But the controversial nature of Chandelier pales in comparison to that generated by its follow-up, Elastic Heart, which was released on January 7th, 2015 and again features Miss Ziegler in the faux-nude getup, along with adult actor Shia LaBeouf (similarly attired), with the two stuck in a giant birdcage together and reacting to one another in a gritty and intense performance.  The negative reaction to the video has been so strong that Sia apologized to victims of sexual abuse over the potentially “triggering” imagery.  Of course, thus far no one has pointed out that one possible interpretation of the video is as a symbolic commentary on sexual abuse, though that is one of many.  Thus, we shall do a scene-by-scene dissection of both videos, with a particular focus on Elastic Heart, to better understand why these are indeed art, and why Sia should not have to apologize for them.

Chandelier

Initially the camera pans around what appears to be an empty, grungy apartment that has clearly seen better days.  As the camera offers us a quick look at the various rooms in the apartment, we get the sense that we are peering into a dormant place.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (1)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (1)

The first time we meet the sole human being who appears in the video (Maddie, of course), she is braced inside a doorway a couple of feet off the floor.  In terms of semiotics, doors and doorways are quite interesting.  As Claus Seligmann points out in this article on architectural semiotics, “For if architecture is at root a system of barriers that distinguish inside from out, this place from that, or place from nonplace, then the door is in our society […] the culturally mandated means of penetrating the barrier.”  That is to say, doors are transitional, a means of moving between two separate spaces, or two separate conditions, or even two separate realities.  That the dancer begins here is noteworthy, for we are being invited into an intimate space.  When she drops to the floor, we know we are thoroughly immersed in her reality.

But who is she, and why does she appear to be nude?  Well, the key to understanding who the child is lies in the wig she wears, which closely mimics the golden blond locks of Sia herself.  So this is Sia—not literally but metaphorically.  As for her implied nudity, we can view it is the ultimate form of vulnerability, a condition amplified by the infantine state of the figure.  But let’s not make the mistake of assuming our young Sia stand-in is perfectly innocent; after all, she is not meant to be an actual child but rather a metaphorical one.  This is an important point, because once we understand that child-Sia is symbolic, we must then try to determine what she is a symbol for.  Well, as this Sia stand-in is the only figure in the video, we could reasonably assume that we are seeing the inner life of Sia.  With that as our starting point, we now know that when the dancer drops onto the floor of this seedy apartment, we are effectively “dropping” into Sia’s mental/emotional world with her.  It’s a raw, murky, and somewhat bedraggled place, the place where Sia is most vulnerable because it is here that she is most herself.  This omni-personal identity, which is something like a kernel from which a great tree grows because it is our core identity, is sometimes aptly referred to as an inner child, hence our little dancer.

You’ll recall back when I pointed out how the apartment was a dormant place?  In that context, we can consider Maddie’s position bracketed in the doorway as something like suspended animation, or even a kind of sleep.  As the child hits the floor, she instantly comes alive, and we are mesmerized by her, this strange pseudo-nude little girl who dances her beautifully bizarre dance.  And as I said before, there is something almost alien about her, with her bright artificial hair and her teased nakedness, not only because she calls to mind iconic science fiction characters like Leeloo from The Fifth Element and (to a lesser extent) Pris from Blade Runner, but because she seems to be neutered, like a humanoid robot or some sexless being from another world.  Yes, our dancer’s world is at once familiar territory and exotic alternate reality.  Doesn’t that perfectly exemplify the realm of the subconscious?

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (2)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (2)

As if to reinforce this point, in the first of only two extreme closeups of Maddie, staring out placidly at the camera, she appears to wind something into the wall and then immediately falls forward like she has been depowered, a robot turning herself off with an invisible key.  But then she pulls herself aright again.  Her hands are dirty, stained with pink chalk (makeup?), and we get the impression that she is burned out.  This is Sia remarking on the nature of her stardom, the fact that sometimes she is like an automaton going through the motions.  Her art, endlessly repeated night after night, and more importantly the requisite partying that comes with the job, have become a chore to her.  It’s a feeling I’m sure many celebrities have experienced.  This robot needs to recharge her batteries, and she does.

Suddenly, it’s as if she has reawakened, becoming something like a human again.  It’s a new day, literally and metaphorically.  The lyrics reinforce this.  We see her yawn and stretch, walking around the room as she rubs her belly in hunger.  She does the splits, perhaps as part of her morning exercises.  She is pushing herself, stretching her limits.  She is coming to life again, nearly—but not quite—ready to swing from the titular chandelier.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (3)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (3)

And then she really lets loose, going through a series of particularly lively motions—flips, tumbles, running through the apartment—and we know our inner Sia is juiced now, running on full speed, re-embracing and reinvigorating her art, and through her art, her life.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (4)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (4)

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (5)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (5)

In the second close-up of the video, Maddie stands behind curtains.  The suggestion is of a performer looking out on her audience with mixed emotions.  And, perhaps it is just me, but there is a point in this sequence at which, just before she leaves the curtains behind, Maddie almost seems to be channeling the spirit of Marilyn Monroe.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (6)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (6)

At last, as the video reaches it’s end, Maddie/Sia is again framed by a doorway, but this time she is on one side of it while the viewer is on the other.  Maddie affects a stage bow here, referencing Sia’s identity as a performer.  This is goodbye for us—we are leaving Sia’s unconscious now, for our visit is over, and the little nude dancer in her head is seeing us off at the door.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Chandelier' (2014) (7)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Chandelier’ (2014) (7)

Elastic Heart

Based on the resounding success of the Chandelier video, it only makes sense that there would be a follow-up video featuring Miss Ziegler, though few could have foreseen the inclusion of actor Shia LaBeouf in the same.  And yet, strangely, it works.  But what’s it about, exactly?  We have only gotten a hint from Sia herself, who has suggested that these figures are two separate states of herself, sometimes simpatico and other times at complete odds.  This makes sense (and reinforces our interpretation of the first video as a representation of Sia’s inner life), and so we already have a pretty good idea about what part of Sia that Maddie represents: she is the vulnerable, emotional part.  LaBeouf, then, is something else entirely, perhaps a need to control the emotional aspects of herself to function normally in her career.  Or maybe he is a predatory instinct born of show business, a moral flaw that Sia must fight to remain human in an inherently humanity-destroying job.  Another possibility here is that he is the untamed (wild) part of Sia, the part that only her heart can quell.

Whatever the case, the beauty of good art is that it is often open to interpretation, its meaning elastic and malleable to whatever the experiencer of the art brings to the table.  And with all of the controversy that has arisen over this video, with accusations that the video somehow encourages or promotes “pedophilia”, I would like to offer another possible interpretation: the video may, in fact, be taken as a condemnation of sexual abuse, wherein the characters are symbolic of the mental interior of an abuse victim.  Let’s consider the semiotics here.

First off, we see that both the child and the adult are trapped in an immense birdcage, facing off against each other.  Through our established theme, this can be seen as symbolic in a couple of ways.  First, the victim may be literally trapped with her abuser—this is often the case with sexual abuse victims, given that most abuse is intrafamilial and occurs in the home.  Such a child is under the complete control of her abuser, since he has custody and legal power over her.  Immediately we can see that the two are out of breath and in a heightened emotional state—they have been at each other’s throats for awhile, it seems.  The girl appears to be fending off the advances of the male, almost like a feral cat fighting off a wolf.  When she attacks, the wound is struck where?  Square in LaBeouf’s heart.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (1)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (1)

But after Maddie’s verbal assault hits its mark and she unleashes on him again (having found a weapon that works), she soon loses her voice.  Consider how there is power in a child’s voice—her ability to speak of her abuse may be the only thing that can truly end it—and child abusers often silence their victims with threats.  But there’s also a musical analogy here, as singers sometimes quite literally lose their voice for a brief time.  There is one point where the sexual abuse metaphor becomes most apt: as the two crawl on the floor like animals, Maddie suddenly flips onto her back, knees up and slightly apart; it seems she is inviting her abuser to take her, but as we soon realize, this is only a ploy to get him close enough so that she might attack him again.  Having gotten the upper hand again in their face-off, she grabs LaBeouf and tosses him against the wall of their shared cage.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (2)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (2)

Not long after this, LaBeouf climbs up the side of the cage and is suspended directly above Maddie for a second.  Here the abuser again uses his power and privilege over the girl (as a parent or foster parent) to his advantage.  This type of shot is often called a bird’s-eye-view in photography and cinema.  Resoundingly appropriate for a video set in a giant birdcage, no?  Moreover, it is largely agreed upon by critics that such shots in visual semiotics establishes a sense of vulnerability for those who lie at the distal end of the shot.

While LaBeouf hangs above her, Maddie seems to sleep, perhaps resting after the long battle.  Or maybe she is pretending to sleep, something long-term abuse victims have been known to do, though her surprise when LaBeouf drops down and intimately touches her face seems genuine enough that I take the first point as more accurate.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (3)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (3)

Maddie is once more on the defensive, but LaBeouf tries another ploy: he seems to offer her something in his hand, and Maddie sniffs at it.  What is he offering her?  My hunch is food, not only because of the way she sniffs it but also because of what occurs directly after.  With Maddie’s back turned to him, her defenses down, LaBeouf moves in.  But the little girl snaps at his hand, and thus quite literally (within a metaphorical context) bites the hand that feeds her, and for good reason.  This scene, I think, is the crux of the entire video.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (4)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (4)

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (5)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (5)

Their ongoing war resumes, going on for a bit; however, something is different this time.  Maddie manages to find her way out of the cage.  The fact that she can fit through the bars while her abuser cannot is significant.  Likely we are seeing the victim growing up and moving away from home, while the abuser is still there.  But more importantly, the victim is now educated and aware, and she knows she can destroy him with a word.  The abuser is still obsessed with the victim, reaching for her through the bars, but she is out of reach.  Ergo, he is trapped in another way: his obsession with the girl has become something like an addiction.  He goes through a series of emotions here—sorrow, fear, rage.  Maddie, meanwhile, also appears to be torn.  She flashes him a false smile, but she is a bit confused by her own feelings.  Perhaps she has not entirely escaped after all.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (6)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (6)

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (7)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (7)

In the end, seeing the man saddened and cowed before her, she slips back into the cage willingly and returns to him in what becomes one of the most poignant scenes in the video.  Maddie flips her legs over LaBeouf’s shoulders, and he walks around with her on his back; she is now his burden.  She expresses genuine care and concern for him here, though she also manipulates him, pounding on his forehead to force him to go through a series of face changes (masks?) for her own entertainment, and then toying with his face directly.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (8)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (8)

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (9)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (9)

It is the girl who is clearly in control now, or so it seems.  She has forgiven her abuser, or at least made peace with him.  She even leads him to the edge of the cage and attempts to pull him out with her, to rescue him from the very prison he created for them, but this is where things become most complicated.  The scene plays out for a while, even after the music dies away, and it soon becomes difficult to discern whether she is still trying to pull him out or he is trying to pull her in.  Most likely it is both.

That is the complex nature of abusive parent-child relationships.  The child may escape the situation physically, but that doesn’t mean she is entirely free of it psychologically.  And she may still love the parent, perhaps understanding him better than he understands himself, and the nature of his obsession with her.  In the end, both abuser and victim are likely irreparably scarred by their unhealthy relationship.  That pretty well sums up what occurs in a much of the long-term intrafamilial abuse I have read about, where severing emotional ties becomes a lot more difficult than if the abuser had simply been an acquaintance.  The camera fades away with the two still engaged in this strange tug-of-war, leaving the viewer uncertain about the fate of man and girl.

Sia, Daniel Askill - Still from 'Elastic Heart' (2015) (10)

Sia, Daniel Askill – Still from ‘Elastic Heart’ (2015) (10)

That’s it.  That is one of my interpretations of the video, and I think I make a pretty strong case for it.  This does not, of course, mean that this was what Sia or Askill intended the video to be about.  Nor does it mean that this is my only interpretation of the video (it isn’t).  The reason I spent a good deal of time examining the video from this perspective is that I wanted to demonstrate something about the nature of good art: it’s meaning is malleable and is often viewed through our own filters.  As has been mentioned here before, those who tend to see obscenity in nude artworks of children are often the ones with the dirty minds, not the artists themselves.  Likewise, I am inclined to believe that we should look askance upon those who offer only the tone-deaf interpretation of the Elastic Heart video as a casual promotion of adult-child sex.

As for me, I see precisely the opposite in it.  In fact, this need not even be a metaphor for sexual abuse–any sort of abuse will do.  As for the discomfort the video may cause, so what?  If the video is indeed a symbolic look at sexual abuse, then it should make us uncomfortable.  Would anyone dare suggest that a film like, say, Bastard out of Carolina shouldn’t have been made because the graphic rape scene at the end is utterly disturbing (which it is—it may be the most graphically depicted child rape scene ever filmed)?  I certainly wouldn’t.  If art is to have any impact on us, it must challenge us.  I am also more than a touch concerned about the current trend of putting up “trigger warnings” on everything that might be even remotely offensive to someone–personally, I find it insulting to myself and to humanity as a whole this notion that we must necessarily be shielded against our own feelings, as if we were all emotional infants who must always be cooed to and comforted by the world around us.

Nevertheless, I will accept it if I must.  If you require a warning label on your art, I can look past it.  After all, controversy has rarely ever hurt sales when it comes to art, and if anything tends to encourage them.  What I will not accept is external pressure to change, destroy or even apologize for art that challenges viewers because some people are bothered by it.  In my estimation, Sia has absolutely nothing to apologize for.  She clearly did not exploit Maddie Ziegler to make her art, which is the only real consideration that should be given when it comes to featuring children in provocative art.  These videos have beautiful purpose, and that is its own moral defense.

Note: In addition to the Sia videos, Maddie Ziegler has appeared in videos for Todrick Hall’s Freaks Like Me and Alexx Calise’s Cry.

Tumblr: Sia (official site)

Wikipedia: Sia (musician)

Daniel Askill (official site)

Wikipedia: Daniel Askill

Maddie & Mackenzie Ziegler (official site)

Wikipedia: Maddie Ziegler

Connections: Jean François Bauret and Jeff Koons

If one is an avid collector of artistic images, then he or she is bound to stumble across things that seem connected somehow.  This is how I discovered the Fränzi Fuhrmann connection among the German Expressionist painters known Die Brücke. So, one day I happened to recognize that an image I had in my collection of a Jeff Koons sculpture closely resembled a photograph I also had in my collection.  With a little bit of searching I discovered it was a photo by Jean François Bauret, though not having a title for the photo to confirm it, I am not even certain it is a Bauret photo.  I have not been able to find it anywhere else on the internet, and that is a problem.  With rare pieces like this I prefer to find at least two versions of it correctly labeled so that I am not just repeating someone else’s error (if an error was made.)  Pictures of the Koons sculpture, however, are more readily available on the internet.

Now, with regard to the Bauret photo, ordinarily I would not post images with such flimsy credit information, or at least not as labeled.  I might list them under the ‘Artist Unknown’ marker.  But in this case the mystery confounds me enough that I am posting both of these in the hope that someone out there might have more accurate information and/or a higher quality version of the photo.  In any case it is quite clear to me that Koons ripped off Bauret’s photo, or maybe Bauret took the photo for Koons to model his sculpture on.  Who knows?  One is hard-pressed to find any real connection between these two artists though.  Jean François Bauret is a classic art photographer who began his career in the 1950s.  His portraiture is pared down and elegant, his nudes very tasteful.  By contrast, Jeff Koons is a postmodern pop artist in the vein of Andy Warhol, and his work is either a critique of pop culture or a shameless wallowing in it; critics are split on this.  He has also used blatantly pornographic images in his work.  Not that I am against porn, even as art, but Koons’ poppy, lowbrow aesthetic I think actually accentuates the trashiness of porn rather than lifting it out of its perceived trashiness.  So what exactly is the connection here?

First, let’s look at the Koons sculpture.  Although it is difficult to tell in photos where it is usually placed against a white background, Naked is actually life-sized, its height just under four feet (45.5 inches to be exact, or around 116 centimeters if you’re on the metric system.)  But the most ironic thing about it is that it is part of a series called Banality.  Essentially a postmodern commentary on kitschy but high-end objets d’art, I can see where Koons was coming from by including it there, even if I don’t necessarily agree with his assessment; however, this was created in the mid 1980s, a bit before the moral panic over child pornography really set in, and nude children in art have since become anything but banal in many people’s eyes.

Jeff Koons – Naked (1985) (1)

Jeff Koons – Naked (1985) (2)

Jeff Koons – Naked (1985) (3)

Jeff Koons – Naked (1985) (4)

And now, here’s the photo from which the sculpture was obviously inspired.

Jean François Bauret – (Title Unknown)

Since I’m already posting a Bauret photo, I might as well post a couple more that fit the blog’s theme.  The first one is a portrait of late actor Klaus Kinski holding a small girl.  The little girl’s name is Nanoï and does not appear to be of any relation to Kinski.  I cannot find any information about her at all, so I am going to assume she was placed in the photo simply for the sake of contrast.

Edit: As I believed the child was actually a girl, I did not happen to look up the info on Klaus Kinski’s son Nikolai, but on a hunch I checked it just today.  Ladies and gents, we have a winner.  Nanhoï is in fact Nanhoï Nikolai Kinski, Klaus’s son.  You can definitely see the family resemblance here.  My confusion over this stemmed from the fact that I have never heard or read of him referred to by his first name, only by his middle name, Nikolai.  Anyway, even though it is a boy I am going to leave the image up, as I find it to be rather charming.

Jean François Bauret – Klaus Kinski & Nanoï (1979)

The cover of a photo book about twins.  The French have two words for twins, depending on gender: ‘jumeau’ (plural ‘jumeaux’) refers to a male twin and ‘jumelle’ (plural ‘jumelles’) to a female twin; hence, the title . . .

Jean François Bauret – Jumeaux & Jumelles (cover)

Jeff Koons (official site)

Wikipedia: Jeff Koons

Jean François Bauret (official site)

Wikipedia: Jean François Bauret (text in French)

Bouguereau Remastered

Editor’s Note: The site “Bouguereau Remastered” no longer exists on the web.

Sometimes in my voyages across the Internet in search of new stuff for the blog, I come across something fun.  This was just such a discovery.  On the site Bouguereau Remastered, assorted artists create variations on famous William-Adolphe Bouguereau works, usually with some satirical bent. Bouguereau, of course, frequently painted children (often his own), and so there are plenty of examples of these works represented at Bouguereau Remastered; I chose those I felt were the best.

Among my favorite pieces at BR were the assorted versions of L’amour mouillé:

u-deviant-scrap-celesti

Artist Unknown – Celestial Bodies

Artist Unknown - Bouguereau's Tattoo Show

Artist Unknown – Bouguereau’s Tattoo Show

This is cool. Digital artist Cézar Brandão has created a 3D rendering of the figure from L’amour mouillé:

Cézar Brandão - Bouguereau's Angel

Cézar Brandão – Bouguereau’s Angel

Cézar Brandão - Bouguereau's Angel (detail)

Cézar Brandão – Bouguereau’s Angel (detail)

Ron English, who is famous for his satirical paintings using KISS figures, did a take on Alma Parens:

Ron English - Miracle of the Milk Kiss

Ron English – Miracle of the Milk Kiss

Ron English - Miracle of the Milk Kiss (detail)

Ron English – Miracle of the Milk Kiss (detail)

A cute little rock girl based on Bouguereau’s Un moment du repos:

Artist Unknown - Bouguereau Rocker

Artist Unknown – Bouguereau Rocker

This artist created a parody of La charité featuring rock star Slash:

M. J. Haylor – Slash La charite

A couple of different versions of La tricoteuse:

Artist Unknown - Combat Girl

Artist Unknown – Combat Girl

Mark Lawrence (Aards2) - Little Supergirl

Mark Lawrence (Aards2) – Little Supergirl

Pictures of the figures stepping out of their frames are quite popular at Bouguereau Remastered:

Artist Unknown - Egg Drop

Artist Unknown – Egg Drop

The best ones seem to incorporate completely incongruous aspects:

John93036 - Young Apprentice

John93036 – Young Apprentice

SteveRS - Young Punk Girl

SteveRS – Young Punk Girl

Krtoon - The Difficult Lesson

Krtoon – The Difficult Lesson

Ziaphra - Skindeep

Ziaphra – Skindeep

These next two are particularly sweet and lovely:

Emily Anney (Child7) - Forest Hideaway

Emily Anney (Child7) – Forest Hideaway

Kenneth Rougeau - Just This Side of Morning

Kenneth Rougeau – Just This Side of Morning

I think this last is my favorite:

Renato Dornas - Crashed again!

Renato Dornas – Crashed again!

DeviantArt: Cézar BrandãoCézar Brandão on blogspot

Popaganda – The Art and Crimes of Ron English (Official Site)

Note: I will be featuring more work from Ron English in the future, so keep a look out for him.

DeviantArt: Child7

Kenneth Rougeau

DeviantArt: renatodornas

Worth1000 (Most of the artists who aren’t identified by real names here have pages and bios at Worth1000.)

Stacey Steers’s ‘Phantom Canyon’

Stacey Steers specializes in odd little animated films that incorporate old illustrations and photos, creating surreal, dreamlike imagery. The figures in the film Phantom Canyon, from which the following stills were taken, were appropriated from Eadweard Muybridge’s famous Human and Animal Locomotion (the entire series of which is available as a three-volume set for a fair price from Dover Books), including a fairy-like little girl. Note the initial parallels with the Pandora myth.

stacey-steers-still-from-phantom-canyon-2006-1

Stacey Steers – Still from ‘Phantom Canyon’ (2006) (1)

Stacey Steers - Still from 'Phantom Canyon' (2006) (2)

Stacey Steers – Still from ‘Phantom Canyon’ (2006) (2)

Stacey Steers - Still from 'Phantom Canyon' (2006) (3)

Stacey Steers – Still from ‘Phantom Canyon’ (2006) (3)

Stacey Steers - Still from 'Phantom Canyon' (2006) (4)

Stacey Steers – Still from ‘Phantom Canyon’ (2006) (4)

Stacey Steers - Still from 'Phantom Canyon' (2006) (5)

Stacey Steers – Still from ‘Phantom Canyon’ (2006) (5)

Stacey Steers – Animations Made by Hand (Official Site)

Ian Goulden

If you’re interested in photo-montage and collage work, you really need to take a look at the Flickr page of Ian Goulden (aka seriykotik1970).  Here’s a lovely sample of his work:

Ian Goulden – Scottish Dance with Flamingos

You’ll see more of his work here eventually, as he has some nice Alice-related pieces.

Flickr: seriykotik1970