• 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

    I don’t care how nice the wallpaper or the lampshades may be, there’s something creepy about the stereotypical American motel featured in films, novels and plays. As if expressly to prove my point, artist Airco Caravan created a series called Crime Scene in which she paints the rooms that have previously played host to murders, suicides and accidental deaths.

  2. List

    Swedish creative Henrik Franklin is a designer, illustrator and animator with two of the world’s leading design schools (Konstfack in Sweden and Rhode Island School of Design) sparkling on his CV. Invited to showcase his considerable talents in Anna Lidberg’s Gallery 1:10 – “the miniature gallery for contemporary art” – Henrik produced a table of tiny tomes and the attention-to-detail on each cover design is really impressive.

  3. Main

    Victoria Siddall has worked at Frieze for just over a decade and two years ago was made Director of Frieze Masters. Excitingly, just a few weeks ago she was appointed Director of Frieze Masters, Frieze New York and Frieze London. As well as being one of the most powerful women in the art world, Victoria is also my sister, so I was curious to find out how she’s feeling on the dawn of her new career.

  4. List

    The Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern has an incredible presence when it’s void of installations, which is what’s so wonderful about the huge enclosed space. As much as I admire the vast emptiness though, it’s even more exciting when a piece of work is placed in the hall and interrupts the vacuum. Opening today, American sculptor Richard Tuttle is the latest commissioned artist to show his work in the space and his 24ft sculpture certainly makes an impact.

  5. Main2

    I came across the work of Matthias Geisler over on Booooooom the other day and was reminded that we hadn’t posted something like this in a while. Matthias’ work is a swirling blend of spirits and creatures that are created with meticulous use of pencil crayons and water-colours. Is it me or are watercolours real in at the moment? All the cool kids seem to be using them.

  6. 8

    A kind of magic happens when Seth Armstrong puts brush to canvas. Having only been familiar with his work for the Mr Porter Journal, I became instantly bewitched by his paintings when clicking through his website.

  7. List

    Whatever the some naysayers may claim there is an art to collage and not everyone can do it, despite how good you think your teenage collages of cut-out red lips, Leonardo DiCaprio and puppies were. Anthony Zinonos is the perfect example of this, having featured on the site previously he’s updated his portfolio with some really cool bits and bobs.

  8. List

    There’s something very fun and raw about Jessica Hans’ vases and her approach to ceramics in general. Based in Philadelphia, she’s had a longstanding interest in foraging and raw materials since university; this has carried over into her ceramics work, which in the past has seen her driving to clay sites, digging her materials out of the ground and then firing them in their original state to see what would happen.

  9. Listt

    “To be an artist and for anyone to care vaguely about what you do is a great thing,” says street artist Moose in this fascinating new Nissan campaign, but his work is more important than most. As the inventor of reverse graffiti – whereby he uses a high-powered pressure washer to stencil imagery in the dirt that accumulates in our cities – Moose’s work asks questions about our attitudes to pollution in a very creative way.

  10. List

    To stare into a Danny Fox painting is like waking up in a world written by Charles Bukowski on a particularly heavy bender. There’s sex and drinking and guns, plus boxers and strippers and cowboys; here a horse, there a tiger. It’s intense and unnerving and exciting, but although there’s something very contemporary about Danny’s paintings, his rise to prominence owes a great deal to the support of a more well-established artist (an age-old route for up-and-coming artistic stars).

  11. Listjmp_cg_house_float_10

    Heads are turning in Covent Garden this morning, and they’re not just looking at the usual street performers – they’re gawping at a levitating building. Master of illusions Alex Chinneck’s latest mind-boggling public art installation is on show in what must surely be the spiritual home of his craft; one of the busiest piazzas in London and its theatrical hub. His floating building follows on from a sliding house, upside down house and many other puzzling optical illusions.

  12. List

    Back in 2013 designers Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman launched 40 Days of Dating, where they entered into a seven week relationship with each other to explore the world of romance from a creative perspective.

  13. Main

    Switzerland-based artist Pascale Keung makes delightfully diverse work which is inspired by her chosen country’s stunning natural landscape as often as it is by wild fantasies. This series Muttsee is an example of the former, a collection of images about “a very special place in the Alps of Switzerland” where she goes to fish with her friends from time to time.