• 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. Ellakru-painting-7home-int

    Latvia-born Ella Kruglyanskaya now lives and works in New York, depicting cartoon-like friends and “frienemies” out-and-about in large-scale oil paintings and murals. Ella’s work is packed with bawdy humour, exaggerated forms, exuberant mark-making and interactions. She describes her intention as “pictorial events… [that] aspire to an unspoken punch line” – the content, references and line-work all filtered through comedy.

  2. Anniedescarteaux-collage-7home-int

    Annie Descôteaux’s work is confident, engaging and straight-forwardly slapstick. The Montreal-based artist works with installation, drawing and collage and has seen her work exhibited and discussed at conferences on colour theory. In equally impressive outings, it’s also appeared in Bloomberg and Pica magazines, among other publications. Annie’s collage work is well-balanced with clean lines, sharp colours and discreet humour; each piece littered with raw steak, fried eggs and shuttlecocks.

  3. Oliviervrancken-untitled-1-inthome

    Olivier Vrancken is a graphic designer and artist based in Holland. Painting and drawing his way through commissions and personal work, he is inspired by everything from primitive art to the great lyricists that are Black Sabbath. Olivier has exhibited all over Europe, his Cubist aesthetic and visual references laden with nods to cut-outs, still life, architecture and the human form. There’s a great colour palette to his work and some nice titles like Bad Hair Day and Wanderlust. Olivier’s work reminds me of the prints that appeared all over the T-shirts of the 1980s, in a good way.

  4. Menutnutnut-drawing-4-int

    Me nut nut nut was one of Jason Murphy’s daughter’s first utterances, and is now the name for his drawings of awkward stories of fear and incompetence. Inspired by the physical comedy of The Young Ones and The Ren & Stimpy Show, Jason’s drawings rely on comic intuition and references to real-life moments, like dropping a potato on his cat.

  5. Seamus_murhpy_pj-harvey_-recording-in-progress_-2015.-an-artangel-commission.-_1_int

    While we wait to take our turn to become a sort of strangely sanctioned voyeur as PJ Harvey records her ninth album, thinking about what’s ahead feels peculiar. Essentially, we’re going to see PJ (Polly Jean) Harvey, her band, producers Flood and John Parish, a photographer and two engineers making an album in a Something & Son-designed box, formed of glass that allows visitors to see in, while the musicians can’t see out.

  6. Atelierbingo-list-int

    Up to the point when I opened Atelier Bingo’s new zine Wogoo Zoogi I’d never wondered what two aliens in heated conversation might look like. Having had a read I can now confirm that the answer is “they are speaking, singing very strangely, and they have a hair on their tongues." The newest bout of work from French illustration and surface design duo Adèle Favreau and Maxime Prou is a wonderful celebration of playful, dynamic, abstract art; blending shapes, colours and patterns in a glorious puddle of chaos thinly disguised as alien chat. In fact, it’s everything we’ve been led to expect from the pair, who we’ve dolloped praise on in the past.

  7. Faigahmed-carpets-list-2-int

    Faig Ahmed is an Azerbaijani artist doing remarkable things with carpets. He takes traditional Azerbaijani rugs – enormous, beautiful intricate creations – un-weaves them, and reconstructs them to create new patterns and shapes, subverting traditional usage of rugs as domestic objects to be walked all over, and rejuvenating them with optical illusions and techniques reminiscent of contemporary internet art. 

  8. Slavs_tatars-loveletters-home-int

    The work of Slavs & Tatars is awash with unlikely cultural references, balloons, archives and carpets. Identifying “the area east of the former Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China” as the focus of their work, their projects are generous, engaging and genre-crossing. Starting as a reading group before shifting into making their own work, Slavs & Tatars have recently been working on a continuation of their Long Legged Linguistics project, a multi-faceted study of language as a source of emancipation. The somewhat secretive collective were kind enough to tell us more about this and their “bazaar” approach to making work.

  9. Davidbatchelor-october-13-int

    If you go down to the Whitechapel Gallery anytime between now and early April you’ll be sure to come across a huge breadth of work chronicling the adventures of the black square, from 1915 all the way up to the present day. It’s fairly monochromatic, as you might expect. Upstairs, however, things get drastically more colourful – especially once you come to David Batchelor’s specially “disrupted” issue of October, one of the most respected art journals out there, first published in 1976 and edited by esteemed writers Michel Foucault, Richard Foreman and Noël Burch.

  10. Alexdacorte-easternsport-1-int

    Perennial student artist Alex Da Corte has qualifications, residencies and awards coming up to his eyeballs having studied Film, Animation and Fine Arts at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Printmaking and Fine Arts at The University of the Arts, Philadelphia and then a cheeky MFA in Sculpture at Yale. Busy guy!

  11. Duane_hanson_-_karma3

    Karma Books have just published a catalogue of Duane Hanson’s post-humous exhibition Flea Market Lady. Shown at New York’s Gagosian Gallery, Duane’s flea market ladies are taken from real-life characters and cast in bronze. An incredible feat of observation and skill, his work captures the character of his models and creates a very real atmosphere of flea-ing. Karma have kindly let us publish an extract from the imaginary conversation Maurizio Cattelan has with the artist in the foreword to the book:

  12. Hdl5_copy

    Hubert de Lartigue paints photo-realistic portraits that “serve the beauty” of his models, and his muse. He considers “emotion and soul” the most important part of a painting and spoke to us about his working process, inspiration and the impact of his muse, Octavie.

  13. Main_10.00.34

    If I won the lottery I’d open a gallery, and when I opened my gallery I’d totally rip off everything that David Kordansky Gallery does. From the big stuff like the very well-curated, cool list of artists they represent, to the impeccable printed matter they produce, to the matter of their easily navigable and well designed website – these guys are celebrating people’s work in the best way possible.