Random Image: Moïse Kisling

An associate found this interesting oil painting—belonging to a private collection—and another associate followed through with some details. The title of this piece translates as Seated Couple.

Moïse Kisling - Seated Couple (1934)

Moïse Kisling – Couple Assis (1934)

Moïse Kisling (1891–1953) was born in Kraków (then part of Austria-Hungary). He studied there at the School of Fine Arts and was encouraged by his teachers to pursue his career in Paris. He started out in Montmartre in 1910 and joined an émigré artist community with members from eastern Europe, the U.S. and the U.K.

During World War I, he served in the French Foreign Legion and was seriously wounded in 1915. As a reward for his service, he was given French citizenship. He became friends with many of his contemporaries such as Jules Pascin and Amedeo Modigliani. Although he painted landscapes, he was noted for his surreal female nudes. However, his style seems to have changed over time with the seated couple above being painted in the Art Deco style. During the German occupation of France in World War II, he emigrated to the United States where remained until his return to France in 1946. A large collection of Kisling’s works is held by the Musée du Petit Palais in Geneva.

Here is a great site with high-quality images of many of his paintings and some historical photographs.

René Iché

My second post is dedicated to René Iché, another French sculptor. He was born in Sallèles-d’Aude in 1897 and died in 1954. Iché was a soldier in WWI, where he suffered injuries and trauma. His experiences in the Great War inspired him to create one of his most famous works, Guernica. Many artists were moved by this historic event where the German Luftwaffe deliberately bombed a Basque civilian population, and created memorial works, most famously Pablo Picasso. But Iché’s piece is much simpler than Picasso’s. It is simply a single skeletal little girl, a symbol of the most innocent victims of the attack.

René Iché - Guernica (1937)(1)

René Iché – Guernica (1937)(1)

René Iché - Guernica (1937)(2)

René Iché – Guernica (1937)(2)

Another fascinating piece by the artist is Contrefleur, a word that translates to “Anti-Flower” which doesn’t seem very flattering. This is Iché in realist mode. In stark contrast to the usual artistic ideal for the youthful feminine figure, he gives us a pubescent girl who is a little fleshy, and her demeanor is somewhat shy and standoffish. Additionally, her pubis—usually smooth in sculpture—is meant to be covered in matted pubic hair. No fay little creature, this! And yet I still find her beautiful. I think Iché did too, and he meant the title ironically, as a snub to critics and idealists.

René Iché - La Contrefleur (1933)

René Iché – La Contrefleur (1933)

Random Images: Roland Heyder

Roland Heyder was born in Germany in 1956 and has been a professional artist since about 1980.  In the beginning, his style was influenced by Salvador Dali and those he calls the Fantastic Realists with their vibrant and surreal theatrical scenes.  He has traveled to Singapore, The Philippines, South Africa and California to study and for inspiration using music, travel and other personal experiences to inspire him.  Whether working in oils or in watercolors, he takes pride in his attention to detail and rich color.  Like most artists, he does not like overly interpreting his work to the viewer.

It is hard for me to discuss my work because I don’t like the idea of influencing someone by explaining my own thoughts and opinions concerning my art. Each painting can either put you in another world, in the middle of a story or simply be the expression in symbols of my inner feelings.

Roland Heyder - Kinderwelten

Roland Heyder – Kinderwelten (2000)

Samantha Everton’s Childhood Fears

I had planned to spend the entire month making posts on artistic horror imagery, including a dissection of two of my favorite horror films featuring girls, but due to circumstances out of my control I have not had much time to work on Pigtails.  I will try to work in three or four posts that adhere to the theme though, and this is the first.  The artist is Samantha Everton, a photographer based in Melbourne, Australia whose work often incorporates children, particularly young girls.  Of special interest for us this month is her series Childhood Fears, where she explores the darker side of girlhood.  Her palette is stark and cold—black, white, blues and greens—and a sense of dread pervades her images, making them a good fit for October.

The first two pieces directly confront the common childhood fear of stranger abduction.  Though it is extremely rare, society and media constantly remind children of ‘stranger danger’, making it a ripe area for artistic exploration of childhood fears.  These photographs use the common semiotic convention of the innocent girl-child (in a white dress) against the blackness of night to express the anxiety and menace of the faceless stranger approaching his potential victim on the road in his big dark automobile.  In the first image, the girls’ vulnerability is reflected in the sheerness of their dresses, and there is a certain sexual tension in visibility of their legs through the flimsy material.  In the second image, the girl runs away, but there is little hope of her outrunning her stalker.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Night Without Darkness

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Night Without Darkness

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Invisible Children

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Invisible Children

The remaining photos settle on domestic unease.  The first of these presents a birthday party, but there is no joy here.  Everything feels overly stiff and formal, devoid of emotion, even mechanical and inhuman.  The title of this piece, Fear of Understanding, suggests that there is perhaps some unspoken secret that everyone present senses but does not fully grasp, the revelation of which will be devastating for all involved.  Thus, it remains the elephant in the room.  Questions abound.  For example, why does the dark-haired girl have a cupcake while the other girl does not?  And why does she need a cupcake at all when there is a full-sized birthday cake?  Whose birthday is it anyway?  Here again are those gauzy white dresses on the girls (mimicked, it must be said, by the translucent curtains), while the parents wear darker, more subdued clothing.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Fear of Understanding

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Fear of Understanding

The next image uses the exact same setting, intimating that it is part of the same narrative as the image above.  Here the blond girl sits alone, covering her eyes.  Has the terrible secret been revealed at last?  Why does the girl cover her eyes?  Is she crying, or is there something she is afraid to see?  The birthday cake and other desserts remain untouched, and there is something menacing implicit in the silhouettes of the trees behind her.  This image effectively taps into what is perhaps the quintessential childhood fear: isolation.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Holding On

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Holding On

The next photo addresses another childhood dread: the breakdown of the family.  As the child passes outside her parents’ bedroom, she is aware of something wrong and terrible happening between her mother and father—an argument, maybe, perhaps owing to the revelation of the big secret generating the tension in Fear of Understanding—which is only hinted at in the image.  Mother sags on the bed as father stands before her, his stern reflection captured in the mirror.  If I keep my eyes closed, the girl thinks as she passes briskly by the open doorway, I can ignore what is going on and pretend everything is normal again.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - If I Keep My Eyes Closed

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – If I Keep My Eyes Closed

And now our girls stands quietly backlit in a dim hallway, her eyes still closed.  This is my favorite of these images.  Perhaps nowhere does the girl seem more vulnerable and ethereal than she does here.  The darkness behind her holds such portent and foreboding.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Silent

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Silent

In the next piece, the two little girls stand side by side beneath twin copies of what appears to be Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie, though you’ll note that one copy seems to have blond hair and the other dark, and that their positions are reversed from the living girls in the photo.  The meaning here is much more oblique, and the key to it all may be the pigeon in the blond girl’s hand.  Pigeons, being famously one of the first domesticated avian species, is thus symbolic of the home.  And yet, the presence of the bird here feels odd and out-of-place.  Likewise, the dark-haired girl’s hair billows while the blond girl’s hair remains still.  Although these girls are around the same age and dressed identically, they do not project a familial bond.  It’s almost like they are standing in the exact same spot in the same home at very different times and are completely unaware of each other.  Once again, there are hints of some strange and unnatural narrative here.  One can easily imagine an entire story with this photo series, where one of the children is a ghost haunting the other one without her awareness.  I think it is the dark-haired girl who is the ghost.  What do you think?

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - The Space Between Acceptance

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – The Space Between Acceptance

My evidence for this contention is this next photo, where the brunette girl is absent entirely but the second Pinkie is still in place!

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Don't Let Go

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Don’t Let Go

But then, there’s this . . .

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - The Suffocation of Fear

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – The Suffocation of Fear

The notion that the darker girl is a spirit casts the birthday party scene in a whole new light too.

Samantha Everton (official site)

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

Louis Malle, Part 2: Black Moon

The first thing that strikes most people when they first watch Black Moon (1975) is that it is hard to follow. Any film or novel that makes extensive use of “stream of consciousness” narrative will not be comprehended by most people at first. So why do such things exist? My contention is that this is dream imagery—imagery from the subconscious—that an artist is compelled to express in an effort to understand it himself. Personal motivations aside, these creations do nevertheless have value to others because dreams make extensive use of archetypal symbols which we can all appreciate with proper education.

It is a little bit of a stretch to include this film on Pigtails in Paint. The lead character, Lily (Cathryn Harrison), is on the cusp of womanhood which is on the high side of our age range. However, the presence of naked children is a recurring motif and part of our agenda is to remove the stigma of such imagery in our culture. And Louis Malle makes extensive use of Lewis Carroll’s Alice imagery, so that makes this film appropriate in a number of tangential ways.

The opening shot is of a badger rooting around until Lily speeds by in a small car. She stops to look at it with a blank expression on her face. It is not clear at this point, but this establishes the idea that as a young woman, she is intimately connected to nature and is compelled to pay attention to it. As she continues her journey, she comes upon some military troops and watches as they execute some prisoners. There is the suggestion that this is a manifestation of a war of the sexes with the aggressors playing out the male role and the more passive women (and their male allies) playing the victims. The presence of the battle in the periphery throughout the film creates a convincing substrate of anxiety. I also feel it is a reflection of Malle’s experience as a boy in Vichy France—Au Revoir Les Enfants and Lacombe, Lucien are two excellent portrayals of the German occupation. One of the soldiers approaches her car and whisks off her cap; thus exposed, she drives off in panic.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (1)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (1)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (2)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (2)

On her way, she observes more vignettes of nature communicating with her and another military scene of a prisoner being beaten. In her flight she falls, giving herself a bloody nose—symbolic of the onset of menstruation. Her first sign of civilization is a horsewoman—whom she mistakes for a man—who seems to scrutinize her before cantering off. Then she encounters a group of naked boys acting as swineherds.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (3)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (3)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (4)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (4)

She finally comes upon a house and enters. There are many signs that the place is inhabited: a lit fire, food cooking on the stove, etc.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (5)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (5)

By this time, the surreal tone is already suggestive of Lewis Carroll’s tales, but we begin to see specific examples: a glass of milk indicative of the “Drink Me! Eat Me!” scene. Lily even has to strain to reach the glass as though she were too small. Across the table is a piglet (The Duchess’ Baby) grunting seemingly in protest and the sound of the piano in the other room is actually a cat walking on the keys (The Cheshire Cat). The milk, however, is a clear symbol of motherhood.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (6)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (6)

Another important recurring character is a rather shabby unicorn. Clearly a symbol of the girl’s maidenhood, Lily’s interaction with this creature illustrates her progress in coming to terms with her adult sexuality and accepting the passing of her youth. Unicorns are post-medieval* symbols of lust, but as strictly fantastic creatures, we understand that we are witnessing the machinations of this girl’s subconscious.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (7)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (7)

Hearing noises upstairs, she explores the house further and finds an old woman (Thérèse Giehse, in a kind of Red Queen role) speaking to a rat (The Dormouse) in a strange mixture of Germanic and Latin sounding languages. Next to her is a radio symbolizing Lily’s connection to the outside, real world. In her first encounter with the woman, Lily has an altercation with her and believes she has died.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (8)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (8)

She hears singing outside and sees a young man tending the grounds. She goes outside to look for him and comes upon him suddenly.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (9)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (9)

Dissatisfied with the old woman’s communication, Lily tries to get a straight answer from this man (Joe Dallesandro). She finds that he only communicates telepathically and is also named Lily. She turns and sees the horsewoman and the naked children now joined by some girls all shepherding a hog and some sheep. The horsewoman is the man’s sister (Alexandra Stewart) and is named Lily as well. The coincidence of the names points to the fact that Brother Lily and Sister Lily are the girl’s alter egos, representing the Animus and the Shadow in Jungian psychology. The twin motif is also suggestive of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (10)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (10)

Throughout the film, the twins serve as models of Lily’s impending role: Sister Lily as caregiver and Brother Lily as seducer. Both represent the more impulsive aspects of their gender roles while the old woman represents the more rational. Brother and Sister Lily return to the old woman’s room and revive her; Sister then allows the old woman to suckle at her breast. After witnessing this, Lily sits provocatively in a chair (in a Balthus-like pose) while Brother comes by and sensuously caresses her bare leg. Alarmed by this development, she withdraws suddenly and is then locked in the room alone with the old woman. One at a time, each alarm clock (The White Rabbit’s Pocket Watch) goes off and in a rage of denial, Lily throws them each out the window. The clocks are a call back to reality but also symbolic of a woman’s “biological clock”. She is then humiliated by the old woman as her panties fall down inexplicably, yet another expression of sexual denial.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (11)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (11)

She escapes when she sees the unicorn again and tracks it down. The unicorn is the only character that speaks plainly to her and she wishes she could continue speaking with it indefinitely. After this, she experiences a shift in her relationship to the children: at first personally associating with them as a fellow child and then acknowledging her role as caregiver. She again observes Sister Lily modeling the caregiving role by feeding the children. She decides to accept her role and now when the old woman makes suckling sounds, Lily feeds her from her own breast. This strange scene is reminiscent of the final passage in The Grapes of Wrath with Rose of Sharon suckling the old man.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (12)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (12)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (13)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (13)

This rite of passage is commemorated in the film by a performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde with Lily playing the piano accompaniment and two of the children playing the leads. The choice of subject matter is instructive; the Tristan and Isolde story came into full blossom in the troubadour era and is about a young couple who fall in love but don’t realize it. The drama is escalated when the couple drink a love potion they mistake for wine.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (14)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (14)

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (15)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (15)

Lily then witnesses a violent scene as Brother Lily kills an eagle with a sword and then Brother and Sister begin fighting tooth and nail, perhaps representing the unresolved tension between the sexes in our society. Lily returns upstairs—the old woman is now gone—and assumes her role: sleeping in her bed and trying to work the radio. A snake appears, an obvious phallic symbol, and slithers into the bed. It appears that Louis Malle does not regard womanhood as a liberation, but an obligation to be meekly accepted. Lily’s expression is of passive resignation and not consistent with the notions of sexual freedom of that period.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (16)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (16)

In the final scene, Lily gets closure with the unicorn which suddenly appears. This time it says nothing and Lily dutifully bares her breasts as it makes suckling sounds. In fact, this is the freeze frame at the end of the film. The significance of this is that in satiating the unicorn, she is able to let go of her attachment to her childhood innocence and fantasy.

Louis Malle - Black Moon (1975) (17)

Louis Malle – Black Moon (1975) (17)

I would like to thank Pip for his contribution in analyzing this film. Without his help, it would have been a lot more work for me to put this all together.

The last installment of the Louis Malle films will be Pretty Baby starring Brooke Shields.

*I erred in my original assumption that this was a medieval symbol.  After some of Christian’s comments and some more follow up on my part, I realize the symbol belongs to the late 15th Century (but possibly earlier).  Please read the comments below for a clarification.  In an effort to get so much information out, there are bound to be errors like this and I will correct them as needed.  It is not my intent to deceive or misrepresent historical paradigms.  -Ron

Album Cover Art – Spring 2015 Edition

It’s time to post some girl-related album art again, and let’s start with a couple from Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish.  These are both single covers, and the first is a beautifully illustrated image for a fantastic but melancholy song called Eva (originally from the album Dark Passion Play) about a mistreated little girl who runs away from home.  In the image, we can see the girl is wearing a period costume from late 19th or early 20th century.  She stands on her front lawn at night, carrying only a few meager belongings and looking back at the home she is about to leave, perhaps forever.  It’s a lonely image for a sad song.  Poor Eva.

Artist Unknown - Nightwish - Eva (single cover) (2007)

Artist Unknown – Nightwish – Eva (single cover) (2007)

Oh, and if you’d like to hear the song itself, you can check it out here.  I find it quite moving myself.  And the lyrics are here.

The next image is for the song Ever Dream, which was released before the album it would appear on, Century Child.  In this case, however, the cover art for the single release has little to do with the content of the song.  It’s just a nice romanticized image of a little girl.

Artist Unknown - Nightwish - Ever Dream (single cover)

Artist Unknown – Nightwish – Ever Dream (single cover)

This next cover image is one of my favorites that I’ve encountered over the last several months.  It’s from the band Royal Bliss, and the album is called Waiting Out the Storm.  The cover image artfully references The Wizard of Oz, as well as featuring some really lovely border art that recalls Constructivist poster designs.

Artist Unknown - Royal Bliss - Waiting Out the Storm (cover)

Artist Unknown – Royal Bliss – Waiting Out the Storm (cover)

Artist Unknown - Royal Bliss - Waiting Out the Storm (cover) (detail)

Artist Unknown – Royal Bliss – Waiting Out the Storm (cover) (detail)

The next cover design I’m fairly certain comes from Jugend originally, but I do not know which issue or who the artist is.  I just thought it was a lovely composition.  The band is Tangemeenie and the album is The Gilded Age.  Beyond that I know nothing about it.

Artist Unknown - Tangemeenie - The Gilded Age (cover)

Artist Unknown – Tangemeenie – The Gilded Age (cover)

And here is another stunning album cover design, this time for Wild Child‘s album The Runaround.  A nice use of digital photocollage here.

Artist Unknown - Wild Child - The Runaround (cover) (2013)

Artist Unknown – Wild Child – The Runaround (cover) (2013)

Here are a couple from female singer Tei Shi.  The first cover image—for Tei Shi’s rendition of Beyoncé‘s No Angel—looks to be a simple family snapshot of Tei Shi herself as a child, possibly in a Halloween costume or some sort of ballet outfit.  I love her tutu!  I have never seen one with that color combination before.  The cover itself has no text.

Photographer Unknown - Tei Shi - No Angel (single cover)

Photographer Unknown – Tei Shi – No Angel (single cover)

This second image is for Tei Shi’s single M&Ms and also seems to be a childhood snapshot of the singer herself, this time in a swimsuit and painted face and holding a bunch of balloons.  A birthday party photo perhaps?

Photographer Unknown - Tei Shi - M&Ms (single cover)

Photographer Unknown – Tei Shi – M&Ms (single cover)

Now here’s a classic!  This is the cover of the Rolling Stones album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, which came out in 1974.  The design is a photocollage where the artist, after completing the collage,  then went and hand-painted over the photos.  I’m guessing the little girls came from photos taken at one of Isadora Duncan’s dance schools.  The costumes are right at any rate, and notice the poses of the girls in the bottom left-hand corner and compare it with this image.  There’s something oddly suggestive about this image, hinting that the Rollings Stones have sex appeal to females of all ages, including little girls.

Artist Unknown - The Rolling Stones - It's Only Rock 'n Roll (cover) (1974)

Artist Unknown – The Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (cover) (1974)

Here’s one I’ve been meaning to share for ages and just never quite got to it.  But here it is now.  This is the cover image for The Enchanter Persuaded album by Sinoia Caves (a.k.a. Jeremy Schmidt), an electronica musician.  I quite like this album, especially the songs Through the Valley and Evil Ball.  The photographer is Dewitt Jones, and the photo originally appeared in the April 1976 issue of National Geographic as part of a story on the poet Robert Frost (a big thanks to one of our readers for providing this information!)

Dewitt Jones - Sinoia Caves - The Enchanter Persuaded (cover)

Dewitt Jones – Sinoia Caves – The Enchanter Persuaded (cover)

Dewitt Jones (official site)

Last but not least, here we have the cover for Little Dragon‘s Nabuma Rubberband.  Little Dragon is an electronica band from Sweden.  This is a great cover, very dynamic.

Artist Unknown - Little Dragon - Nabuma Rubberband (cover)

Artist Unknown – Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband (cover)


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.

Alien Girls, Animal Spirits & Raisons d’Être: The Art of Lily C

I’ve received my fair share of fan mail for my work here, but something about the first excited email I received from a young lady named Lily C (named changed for her protection and privacy), who I’ve been conversing back and forth with over the last few days, really captured me, in part because it perfectly encapsulated part of Pigtails in Paint‘s raison d’être.  I am going to quote her first two paragraphs in full, because I think she deserves that.  She wrote:

I came across your site while looking for answers or comfort or acceptance. I started with Nabokov so many years ago and went all the way to Caravaggio and Carroll and Ovenden, then to your site. Let me explain. When I was around four years old, I was repeatedly sexually abused by a male family friend, who was twelve or thirteen and had been abused himself (and the cycle probably continued all the way up the line to Adam). When I was nine, it was a neighbor who was around forty, and when I was twelve/thirteen it was a few strangers on a few trains. As you can imagine, these events soiled my sexuality a good deal for it took away my right to explore it of my own accord. Truly, I feel that innocence isn’t lost with virginity, but instead when sex becomes carnal, forced, and fake– an apple made entirely of sugar, rather than the ripe, red fruit it should be. The boy treated me as if he loved me, the older man explicitly told me so, and the strangers on the train touched me blindly, without love. It confused me. I’m not sure if you believe at all in the concept of the nymphet (popularized by Nabokov but surely recognized well before then) but even if you don’t, I do, and I believe I was one.


After all that happened to me, I became hyper-sexual, which isn’t uncommon for girls in this circumstance, but I corrupted my sexuality near to the point of extinction because I was endlessly searching for a way to reclaim and re-explore it without the notions that were forced upon me. Then, just a year ago, I met a boy who saw the child and the nymphet in me and he nurtured it and now I’m regaining that small portion that was lost; what I call innocent sexuality. Indeed, I feel like a child and a woman all at the same time and I’ve found a beautiful balance and it feels so good to be this way. However, I am still traumatized, and ever since those events began I have struggled with child love. One of my darkest secrets, but one that I can share because I’m no longer afraid of it (though I am ashamed), is that in my young teenage years I became obsessively fascinated with child pornography. This, of course, stems solely from the personality split that occurred within me from the abuse, and I sought after children because I wanted badly to reconnect with the part of the child within who was lost. I’m still coming to terms with this loss. I disconnected myself from the porn after I had met my love, and indeed everything that dealt with themes of child love were thrown away or pushed out of my head out of fear. I still get pangs of heart-wrenching adoration for certain little girls, and it really confuses me in the moment. This past month I have been searching around the Internet for something that would satiate this need to connect, that wouldn’t be a simple cover-up as the child porn was– and the point of all this, really, is to say that I’ve found it on your blog.

When I founded Pigtails, it was first and foremost a way for me to process my own complex feelings about young girls through the endless manifestations of them embodied in art, and to recognize the nobler ideas behind artistic expression in a way that honored girls holistically without demolishing or changing their girlish nature.  As I’ve said before, Pigtails is itself an art project, and, as good art should, it has since come to represent many things for many people.  So, it meant a great deal to me when Lily explained what Pigtails was for her and how it soothed a need she felt in herself to recapture the feelings of being both innocent and sexually alive at the same time—in other words, to be the girl she would’ve been had her burgeoning sexuality not been corrupted and directed by outside forces.  With a wisdom surpassing her nineteen years, she managed to express what it means succinctly and artfully:

Innocence to me is a wonder and a curiosity free from construct and self-inhibition. Innocence is exploring without boundaries or insecurities (apart from those boundaries that keep one safe).

Notice that nowhere in this definition does she include the concept of utter sexual ignorance, for the truth is, kids are sexual beings.  The issue isn’t that sexual abuse “sexualizes” children, but rather that it swaps their free-form, still developing sexuality out for something artificial, fixed and forced, and therefore (to the child) something much less fun and interesting.  It is not dissimilar from an adult taking a child’s free-flowing imagination and shaping it to by coercing, guilt-tripping or pressuring the child to create only what that particular adult finds beautiful.  When this happens (as it frequently does), children tend to become disillusioned with their own creativity, and consequently, to lose interest in being creative.  For kids, the end product of creative expression is not generally the driving force behind it; it is, rather, the joy of creation itself.

Lily C - Empress (2012)

Lily C – Empress (2012)

Well, all of that applies to child sexuality as well, and therein lies the key to understanding it.  Society as a rule tends to either ignore, devalue or deny the existence of child sexuality altogether.  This is why we have consistently been so wrongheaded about how to deal with children and sex, and consequently, why I believe sexual abuse is still going fairly strong today even with the severe taboos and laws in place.  Society itself has effectively fetishized children’s innocence to the point where they now fail to understand what it really means, or the harm that this impossible standard often causes to children themselves.  With our prevailing concept of the perfectly asexual child, we have erected an image of the child which most real children could never meet, and that failure can bring shame and guilt on them, the very things child abusers often use to control kids and keep them quiet, and which can cause them to be victimized again and again.  On the flip side of that same coin, the innocence fetish has become attractive in itself to some people, and by extension, so does the prospect of violating that innocence, warping or corrupting it.

But I’m not here to talk about that.  I am here to discuss Lily’s art, which she sent me samples of in her second email, and which I immediately fell in love with.  This is real outsider art, folks—like the work of Henry Darger.  It is pure expression, motivated by a true creative instinct that isn’t necessarily aimed at an end goal, much like that of a child.  Lily says of her work,

It is rare for me to take pencil to paper with an idea in mind. Usually I will be fixated on some aesthetic form (e.g. the shape of the fingers, an eye, a nose, a word) at the time of drawing and I start with these things, but rarely does the attention awarded to that specific aesthetic point manifest as the focal point of the work. It’s very spontaneous; it just comes out of my fingers, really, and therefore it comes almost directly from my subconscious. In a way all my pieces are connected to the dream world. When I’m done drawing I look at the page in surprise, usually, at the ideas that have presented themselves to me through such an arbitrary method, much like waking from a dream.

Of particular interest to Ron were the animal/human hybrid pieces.  One is a type of centaur, an equine body topped by a human head. The ornate decorations she has given the centaur, including the hood, are all quite lovely.  The long distortions of the equine form call to mind Salvador Dali’s elephants and the horse from The Temptation of Saint Anthony.  The other hybrid is a lemur’s posterior topped by a human girl’s torso and head.  A strange choice for such a hybrid, and yet it works.  The addition of the wind gives the image a nice buzz of energy.  The lemur girl is busy, maybe storing fruit away for the winter, while the wind blows.  The image suggest autumn, which is, appropriately enough, a season of transition, great activity and preparation for the future, things that most teen girls are well acquainted with.

The meanings behind them are also quite personal for Lily and tie in to the childhood theme that recurs through her work:

The animal/human hybrids are directly sourced from who I am as an individual. I have a very strong connection to the child within myself, and indeed some parts of me are fully a child (if that makes sense). As I’m sure you and many of your readers know, children have the remarkable ability to attune themselves to animal spirits; they are simply closer to the Earth, closer to the essence of existence which can be found in its most complete form in nature. I embody this spirit in my paintings because my creative abilities are intrinsically linked to my childishness.

Lily C - Wounded Mouth (2010)

Lily C – Wounded Mouth (2010)

Lily C - Past Lives (2012)

Lily C – Past Lives (2012)

My favorite, piece, meanwhile, is a blue-skinned alien girl.  There exists a striking contrast between the exoticness of the alien and the prosaic nature of her expression, which embodies a common struggle of girls everywhere to forge their own identity and is spoken very much in the urban patois of a modern teen: “Can’t live like I wanna.”  Of course, since it is Lily expressing this sentiment through her art, it means much more than that.  Some might be tempted to ascribe a Postmodern irony here, but to do so I think would be to gravely misunderstand the artist.  Indeed, Lily herself has confessed that she doesn’t fully understand what is going on in this work and finds it troubling at times.

The words come from a song called ‘I Ate Your Soul’ by Grieves. This painting is from one of the hardest points in my life. I drew it when I was fifteen and kept it for a little while without color or words. At that point she was just the girl, and she was in a much more vulnerable position with her legs spread open and a pained expression on her face. I redrew it multiple times over the next two years, but it never seemed right to me. Usually I feel a sense of relief when a sketch or a drawing is finished, but not with her. When I was eighteen and in university I listened to a lot of hip-hop and I was fixated on the aforementioned track, listening to only this song over and over. I was in my dorm room one night listening to the song and very distressed because I hadn’t drawn anything for a long, long time. I had her in front of me and I looked at her and felt extremely disgusted by her, so I traced her yet again and scribbled those lyrics which had been stuck in my head, and she seemed more complete. She ignited my creativity in that sense again so I’m grateful for her, but she still scares me.

Lily C - Untitled (2011)

Lily C – Untitled (2011)

Her girls can also take on the semblance of clowns, with odd splotches of color over eyes, chin and cheeks.  Or bearing a jester’s cap and a protruding tongue.  But in short order one realizes that these are not cheerful characters.  They’re naked, for one thing, and it isn’t the carefree nakedness we usually see with children.  It is awkward, uncertain, defensive.  One girl, her body contorted impossibly and furtively away from the viewer, looks to be masturbating, a coil of poisonous green smoke wafting from the cigarette in her other hand.  The girl in the jester’s cap feels rather more devilish than comedic here, with her protruding tongue, her sharp claws and a piece of intestine snaking out of a slit in her belly.

The darker aspects of Lily’s art can of course be interpreted as a manifestation of her sexual abuse.  Lily herself frames it this way:

I use my art to explore all components of my existence, including my sexuality. My intense focus on sexuality in art started when I was around six years old and would draw crude genitalia on figures then quickly scribble them out for modesty. I don’t know if this interest stemmed from abuse or innate curiosity. My abuse started when I was as young as two (however, I only remember specific instances from when I was five), but I don’t remember everything because that is past the point where my memory can recall such trauma. A lot of what happened to me is not accessible, it lingers in my subconscious, so naturally it would eventually come out through my art; the only access point. The abuse affected me in a most confusing way so that I didn’t know what sexuality was or how it fit into my life or myself, and I began to explore it with nude figures of my own age and older engaging in sexual acts, and this began when I was twelve. As my work progressed the figures became younger and younger, and less sexually involved, until I was drawing fetuses in the womb! Through this, I was able to explore sexuality in the context of age. I found that the young girls I drew had a profound sexual energy that could not be expressed, that was actually on the very verge of being expressed but they did not know exactly how to do it because of their age or some other block. The babies had a sexual energy, but did not express it except through simply being (as all things do– even rocks have a minuscule amount of sexual energy which they exude only by existing in the world). The fetuses were fetuses and I could not really identify them. I remember one drawing in particular, made when I was fifteen. There was a fetus in a disembodied amniotic sac, about 50 days old, and a female off to the left side of the drawing who looked to be about eleven years old by her body proportions, screaming. At the top of the page was a cluster of female heads with hollow eyes, connected by their hair. On the next page was a female with a goat head, fourteen years old, bound in barbed wire and some poetry about serpents off to the right. Strange stuff. The connection between my childhood and my art is formed in many locations within me. It is formed through the subconscious by trauma, it’s formed by the inherently strong link to my imagination forged in childhood, and it’s formed by my innate tendency to express myself creatively on paper which I have been doing since before I can remember. But there’s a lot of weird stuff going on that I haven’t quite figured out yet, so I don’t doubt that some connections haven’t yet been discovered.

Lily C - Shelby (2010)

Lily C – Shelby (2010)

Lily C - Hunter (2010)

Lily C – Hunter (2010)

Lily’s images often swirl with text, some of it inexplicable but clearly channeled from her subconscious.  In Alien Boss, the text is as much the focus of the work as the imagery is.  In fact, text and imagery are so intertwined that they are nearly inseparable.  The words slither and writhe on the page, getting jumbled up so that one might read them in a variety of ways.  Before I was provided with the title of this work, I interpreted one line in the piece to read, “Boss, the alien is coming”—Lily rather intended it to read, “The alien boss is coming.”  Either one might be appropriate in the context, to say nothing of the possible double entendre in the word “coming,” given what is occurring on the page.

Lily C - Alien Boss (2010)

Lily C – Alien Boss (2010)

In another, green-hued girls and mechanical birds prance around while a disembodied infantile mouth commands the viewer to “Fuck ME.”  Confrontational?  Perhaps.  Necessary?  Quite.

Lily C - Untitled (2010)

Lily C – Untitled (2010)

But it’s not been all doom and gloom for Lily.  I will leave you with a hopeful note from Lily herself:

Apart from the abuse my childhood was a happy one. I spent most of my time alone, climbing trees and catching insects, building worm piles and playing with cars. I was happiest among the trees and the grass and the dirt, thinking about things. I felt powerful when I fell from a tall branch and scraped my arms up badly and did not cry. Also when I ate with the wasps, and let spiders crawl across my hands, and when I got so dirty I turned the bathtub black. When I was a little girl I didn’t restrain myself from anything, I did whatever I wanted without fear and I had a very strong moral code; I didn’t hurt anything or anyone, I helped wherever I was needed. This is a point I would like to reach again, and I’m not far away. If I could embody the spirit of myself as a little girl, this would be the utmost point of my spirituality and creativity.

Lily C - Warrior (2012)

Lily C – Warrior (2012)


Akiane, Indigo Child Prodigy

Akiane Kramarik was born in 1994 in Mount Morris, Illinois.  Her American father and Lithuanian mother identified themselves as atheists; and then surprisingly, their daughter began to have intense spiritual visions in which she would meet God “face to face”.

Akiane Kramarik

Photographer Unknown – Akiane: Her Life, Her Art, Her Poetry (book cover) (2006)

This was not initially easy to accept as her mother Forelli remembered, “At first I thought it was a nightmare.” (Evening Magazine.) Her father Mark was also caught off-guard, “It sort of took me aback because we never read the Bible and didn’t have any kind of spiritual connection.” (CNN)

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'On My Knees' (2005)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘On My Knees’ (2005)

Akiane began having spiritual visions at age three; the following year she picked up art tools to express the things she was experiencing.  “I was just so surprised at the impeccable images I had in my head that I just had to express them in some sort of physical matter.”  (Sally Lee, Daily Mail, January 30, 2015.)  She quickly progressed from sketching to pastel by five, then to acrylic at six, and finally to oil.

Akiane Kramarik – On My Knees, 2005

Akiane Kramarik – On My Knees, (2005)

Her mother speaks of this process as follows,

It wasn’t just art that was happening. Simultaneous with art was a spiritual awakening…. It all began to happen when she started to share her dreams and visions. … We didn’t pray together, there was no discussion about God, and we didn’t go to church. Then all of a sudden, Akiane was starting to talk about God. … We were with the kids all the time, and so these words from Akiane about God didn’t come from the outside—we knew that. But there suddenly were intense conversations about God’s love, His place [in our lives], and she would describe everything in detail.” (Marry Berryhill, Today’s Christian, July/August 2004.)

Akiane’s parents soon joined the church, while she herself remains spiritual but does not consider herself a member of any denomination or religion despite frequent Christian references in her art.

Akiane’s family did not have an artistic character.  Akiane describes her painterly education thus, “I am self-taught. In other words, God is my teacher.” (In5d, Indigos, April 26, 2011).  Nonetheless, she was soon recognized as a prodigy.  In a few short years she appeared with Oprah, CNN’s Lou Dobbs, ABC’s Peter Jennings, Katie Couric and  Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America, Craig Ferguson of The Late Late Show, and Robert Schuller on the Hour of Power.  Her paintings sold for upwards of fifty-thousand dollars, and hung in locations such as the U.S. embassy in Singapore.

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'My Sight Cannot Wait for Me' (2002)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘My Sight Cannot Wait for Me’ (2002)

Akiane is highly dedicated.  She paints six days a week, rising at three or four a.m. and paints for as many as fourteen hours a day; some works take months and hundreds of hours to complete.

Akiane Kramarik – My Sight Cannot Wait for Me (2002)

Akiane Kramarik – My Sight Cannot Wait for Me (2002)

Akiane’s art can mostly be described as either realist or surrealist.  Often times, she herself does not know the meaning of the images she has seen in visions and feels compelled to paint.  She said, “God gave me more ideas I don’t even know what the meaning is, like pyramids, I really don’t even know that meaning….” (CNN)  Her mother said of these fantastic dream images,

“When she was talking about these galaxies and intergalactic experiences and God, I knew whatever she was seeing, something was really there for her.”  (CNN)

Akiane Kramarik – Faithfulness (2010)

Akiane Kramarik – Faithfulness (2010)

As a girl artist who often made a girl the subject of her work, she might be doubly interesting to Pigtails readers.  In fact, many times that girl subject was a self-portrait.  Described as an indigo child and dedicated to God and love, it’s probably appropriate to find girls and particularly one so angelic as herself in her paintings.

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'Turquoise Eyes' (2005)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘Turquoise Eyes’ (2005)

Akiane has traveled to thirty different countries and is currently residing on the Gold Coast in Australia.  She is fond of animals and since the age of twelve, her compassion for other living souls has motivated her to practice veganism.  She is home-schooled and studies largely only what is interesting to her personally.  Akiane speaks five languages including American Sign Language and has contributed significant funds to children’s charities.

Akiane Kramarik – Turquoise Eyes (2005)

Akiane Kramarik – Turquoise Eyes (2005)

Akiane’s painting and the publication of two books have earned her millions of dollars.  Rich, beautiful and genius, she has quite a lot going for her.  Despite all that, she remains humble and committed to sharing what she’s been given.  “I really love sharing my gift with others. At the same time, I’m just a normal kid having fun and that’s what life is all about—having fun at the same time as helping people.”  (rememberwhoweare, October 20, 2011.)

Photographer Unknown – Painting 'Innocence' (2006)

Photographer Unknown – Painting ‘Innocence’ (2006)

Akiane has occasionally faced criticism.  Some people accused her of being a fraud; others called her technical proficiency lacking, and some were offended by the religious content.  She recalls, “People wanted to burn all my works when we tried to display them in public.” (Sally Lee, Daily Mail, January 30, 2015.)

Akiane Kramarik – Innocence (2006)

Akiane Kramarik – Innocence (2006)

Akiane had some profound insights on art and children,

“Portals of divinity are everywhere. I believe that children may enter these divine portals easier, because they are seeking for answers in the purest way.” (In5d, Indigos, April 26, 2011)

“Infinity imagines curiosity from the wild abyss—Only the child makes a swing-set view of the worlds upside down. Unwatched truth is the enchantment of childhood.  And we never grow out of it…” (rememberwhoweare, October 20, 2011)

Akiane Kramarik – Co-Creation (2005)

Akiane Kramarik – Co-Creation (2005)

Akiane has a personal site online which can be found here.