• Aw6

    Charles Dodgson: Alice Pleasance Liddell, Summer 1858

  • Aw4

    Charles Dodgson: Alice’s Adventures Underground

  • Aw3

    Charles Dodgson: Alice’s Adventures Underground

  • Aw1

    F.E. McWilliam: Eye, Nose and Cheek

  • Aw5

    Peter Blake: _But isn’t it old! Tweedledum cried _

  • Aw2

    Bill Woodrow: English Heritage – Humpty Fucking Dumpty

Art

Tate Liverpool: Alice in Wonderland

Posted by Rob Alderson,

The Bible aside, Alice’s Adventures Underground and Through The Looking-Glass could claim to have influenced and inspired more artists than any other books. That’s certainly the impression you get from this sweepingly ambitious exhibition which opened yesterday at Tate Liverpool – a show which begins with pre-Raphaelite paintings and ends with a Fiona Banner porn transcript – taking in original manuscripts, surrealism, psychedelia and conceptual art along the way.

It begins with the author of these extraordinary books – Oxford maths professor Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll – with pictures of him, pictures he took of the young Alice (who has a steely self confidence even as a four-year-old) and the original manuscript of the book.

There’s also the author’s own sketches for some of the most famous characters and a detailed list of exactly where illustration should come in the text – proof, according to the curators, of Dodgson’s instinctive mutual appreciation for the textual and the visual.

Fortunately Dodgson left the illustrations to others (his ponderous griffin is a study in artistic under-confidence) – originally the instantly recogniseable images of Sir John Tenniel, but later a myriad of artists who bring unique takes and talents to the famous story.

A hugely enjoyable way to wile away 15 minutes at this show is to browse through the many international editions of the book, comparing and contrasting the wildly different illustrations employed in each – from, warm, soft pseudo Disney colours to stark, modernist line drawings.

The way the stories toy with perception and reality chimed in nicely with the surrealist movement – Andre Breton called Carroll “their first teacher in the art of playing truant”, and the influence is both obvious – such as in Max Ernst’s Pour les amis d’Alice a hazy blue half-dream of characters form the books – and less direct, as in Dorothea Tanning’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusic, a claustrophobic, little-girl haunted nightmare where the rules of perception ally against the viewer.

The highlight of the show for me was Salvador Dali’s extraordinary set of sketches for the book – wrenching out the darker elements and pushing to the extremes the psycho sexual impulses the end of innocence implies. So we have the Mock Turtle as a brooding be-taloned beast, the Queen of Hearts as a Giacometti shadow with a cruel playing card attachment and Alice herself a faceless, wispy black figure with a skipping rope forever swinging wildly above her head.

The British surrealist movement go as far as to dub themselves “The Children of Alice” and although their visual references are rarely obvious – in the paintings of Paul Nash, Eileen Agar and Roland Penrose, and the sculpture of F.E.McWiliam you can discern threads that runs all the way back through the looking glass.

The 1960s sees Alice and chums co-opted by the pychedelic movement, a countercultural icon (whose stroy even inspired a Jefferson Airplane album). Two magnificent series of illustrations sit side by side – Graham Overnden’s nightmarish screenprints where Alice becomes the creepy little girl motif so beloved of modern horror films, while Peter Blake goes for more muted, darker, realistic renderings of this topsy-turvy world.

The latter rooms, with their conceptual art pieces, may sometimes seem like they are stretching the point too far, but with recurring themes of childhood, time and linguistic games there’s still an argument to be made.

Jan Dibbets’ Perspective Correction pieces, Jospeh Kosuth’s famous Clock (One and Five) recall some of Dodgson’s trickery, and there are parallels to the endless word games in Joseph Grigley’s 167 White Conversations, which collate notes the deaf artist has used and received to communicate and clear up misunderstandings.

And just as the themes of Alice have become familiar, so too has the imagery become a well-known cultural cornerstone. As such it has been appropriated by various artists, most notably here in Bill Woodrow’s English Heritage – Humpty Fucking Dumpty a sculptural history of humanity assembled in honour of the wall-perching one.

It’s a tremendous show whether you fully buy into the persuasive central thesis or not, cleverly curated and a fitting tribute to the fantasy world created originally simply to entertain two bored little girls on a boat trip.

There’s an accompanying catalogue and merchandise range too.

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Art View Archive

  1. List

    Have you ever wondered what the world might have looked like after the great Old Testament flood? What bizarre events might have followed such a freak occurrence in weather? Me neither. It’s honestly never crossed my mind. But illustrator Samuel Branton has been fixating on the idea, imagining the strange fusion of land and sea that a tumultuous rise in water levels might effect. He’s gone one step further and illustrated these fictional scenarios in miniature, taking this Regency medium and making it weird. Witness crabs beating up a wild boar, monkeys tossing an elephant in the air and a sad old sperm whale incapacitated in a tree. And Deluge is available in book form too!

  2. Aakash-itsnicethat-list

    When we last wrote about Aakash Nihalani we described his practice as a series of interventions, and now that he has graduated from playful street art compositions to full blown technological mind-blowers, that vaguery seems even more apt. His newest piece sees him create a series of interactive installations which respond to the movements of the subject stood in front of them. The video demonstrates it better than I could ever hope to, so wrap your eyes around it and try to keep your jaw off the floor. Aakash is entering a new age, people; just imagine the possibilities!

  3. Ines-longevial-itsnicethat-list

    Inès Longevial is an art director and illustrator based in Paris, whose beautiful paintings of intertwined bodies are likely to have you looking twice. She breaks up the human figure into segments in a fashion Picasso himself would admire, rendering different parts in contrasting but muted colour palettes to disguise the physicality of her subjects. The effect is quite beguiling; hands play across hips and colour distinctions hint at the seams of clothes, but nothing is clear cut. It’s a geometric play on anatomy, and it has clients including fashion brand Amélie Pichard and sportswear giants Nike coming back for more.

  4. Hannahwaldron-itsnicethat-list

    “I wish I knew how to weave,” I found myself sighing longingly while clicking through Hannah Waldron’s portfolio. The UK-based multi-disciplinary artist and designer has transitioned seamlessly from grid-based image-making to create works in textile form since completing an MFA in Textiles at Konstfack, Sweden, and it looks like she’s well at home in the medium. Map Tapestries is a series of woven works inspired by various city scenes – Kreuzberg, NYC and Venice, for example – in bright colours, evocative shapes and simple geometric forms, and it’s wonderful.

  5. Jen-stark-whirl-side-int-10

    If it isn’t broke then there’s absolutely no need to even think about fixing it, as artist Jen Stark is fully aware, and there’s nothing broken about her geometric papercut sculptures. The LA-based artist has been making such work for literally as long as It’s Nice That has been running – here’s the first time we ever posted about her, back in 2007 – and although her work continues to grow in intricacy, she’s stayed true to her roots. These days her sculptures are made more and more often inside huge, unassuming black and white boxes, recreating the feeling that you’re a child about to unbundle a giant parcel of joy on Christmas morning, and they’re still as impressive as they were eight years ago.

  6. Everybody-razzle-dazzle-1-photo-mark-mcnulty-int-list

    Sir Peter Blake has designed this fabulous dazzle ship, a Mersey Ferry that will carry commuter passengers for the next two years. Named Everybody Razzle Dazzle, Sir Peter says it’s his “largest artwork to date,” and that he was “honoured and excited to have been asked to design a dazzle image for the iconic Mersey Ferry.”

  7. Boyocollage-int-list

    Some budding young design talents fresh out of university might harbour resentment about being thrust into a new job at a design studio as a “photocopier boy” (his words), but Patrick Waugh is not one of them. Instead he took full advantage of the rich archive at his disposal in his earliest and most junior jobs to make copies. Lots of them. And then took a scalpel and some masking tape to them, and transformed them into something altogether more exciting.

  8. Stephenabela-int-main

    At first, Stephen Abela’s images are all glorious bronzed bodies, sun-drenched beaches and hazy holiday reveries. But beneath the heat, there’s something else at play too, which feels a little more disquieting. In that oft-cited Edward Hopper thing: even in the densely populated scenes there feels like there’s a loneliness. Even the speech bubbles are lonely – in fact, they’re vacant – suggesting that for all the beautiful scenery, the folk that populate it aren’t quite sure what to say or what to do. There’s a joy there, for sure, but the great thing about Stephen’s work is this complexity, and the sense that all isn’t necessarily as it seems.

  9. Int-list-carsten-holler-pic

    Merging the fun of the playground with the beauty and cerebral qualities of art, a slide will transport visitors to the Hayward Gallery entrance this summer thanks to the forthcoming Carsten Höller show, Decision.

  10. Traceyemin-mybed-int-

    Sometimes I don’t really “get” modern art, but I get Tracey Emin’s My Bed. She displayed it as a piece of art in 1998 after practically living in it for about a month following a bad breakup. Back then she was rake-thin and impish with an appetite for booze and fags, in that odd age where you’re left to fend for yourself but are not perhaps quite ready.

  11. Serenmorganjones-int-list

    With the centenary of British women receiving the partial vote coming up shortly, artist Seren Morgan Jones decided it was time to focus on the Welsh suffragists who helped to make it happen. “I think it is important to show that there is more to Wales and its history than coal mining, rugby and men,” she explains, “and to draw people’s attention to the fact Welsh women were so involved in the fight for women’s rights.”

  12. List-welcome_to_neu_friedenwald_by-laura-jung

    To say that the announcement from David Lynch that Twin Peaks was returning was met with excitement is something of an understatement. It was, as is to be expected, met with rabid levels of hysteria – or at least as rabid as those cool enough to adore the show would willingly articulate – and we’re still a good year away from seeing it on screen. This year is the show’s 25-year anniversary, and to mark the occasion, something very special is afoot in Berlin.

  13. Samchirnside-int-list

    I don’t know what it is about seeing colours up close that’s so mesmerising, but Sam Chirnside is all over it. The Melbourne and New York-based artist works predominantly with oil paints to create strangely beautiful distortions, which work best when overlaid with a band logo to create album artwork, or cut out in geometric shapes. His works resemble planetary compositions straight out of a senior school physics textbook or a happy spillage in an art classroom, and we can’t get enough of them.