Tim Burton is getting a nice bit of publcity courtesy of MoMA. But an Australian art collector reminds us that he’s hardly the only “artist” who’s been inspired by Lewis Carroll’s enduring character. The work discussed below was auctioned at Bonham and Goodmans on Nov. 24th with bids up to the low estimate and a selling price of A$720,000.
We received this short piece on Charles Blackman with the reminder that the collector does not own any of the artist’s work.
[intro]Meet the Australian Alice[/intro]
Alice in Wonderland is an upcoming film that will be directed by Tim Burton. It is an extension to the Lewis Carroll novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Mia Wasikowska will play the role of Alice, alongside Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen, Anne Hathaway as The White Queen, and Crispin Glover as The Knave of Hearts.
The film is due for release on March 5, 2010 and is likely to bring attention to the paintings of Charles Blackman’s Alice in Wonderland series (1956-1957) which are amongst the most loved and admired of twentieth century Australian art. These works were directly and often rapidly painted, with colourful confections of exploding flowers and self-pouring teapots, of high-backed blue kitchen chairs and ‘Drink Me’ medicine bottles, of floating things and falling things, of bodily distortion and crazy perspective, falling somewhere between the pictorial love songs of Marc Chagall and the inventive mythography of Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings.
The Alice pictures were first exhibited at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Melbourne in February 1957. But it was not until after Blackman’s return to Australia after five triumphant years in London (1961-1966) that the Alice in Wonderland sequence was recognised as a major achievement. In 2006 the National Gallery of Victoria marked the 50th anniversary of the series with a comprehensive show of 46 works, declaring Blackman’s Alice in Wonderland ‘one of the truly inventive, perceptive and memorable series in the history of twentieth-century Australian art.
Despite their being ostensibly illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story, Blackman’s Alice paintings contain a distinct autobiographical resonance. The series’ immediate inspiration was a ‘talking book’ borrowed by his blind writer wife Barbara. Previously unfamiliar with the story (his was not a bookish childhood), Blackman was ‘thrilled to bits with it,’ and used its imagery to express his own sense that ‘the world is a magical and very possible place for all one’s dreams and feelings.’
The series also captured more intimate truths: Alice’s constant growing and shrinking and the ‘Drink Me’ and ‘Eat Me’ medicines reference Barbara’s first pregnancy, which was coincident with the development of the series, while the recurrent images of table settings reflect Charles’s then current ‘day job’ as a short order cook at the Eastbourne Café. The couple even owned their own white rabbit, a knitted toy that they called Dosty Wovsky. But the very heart of the series, its driving force, is a simple love story. Apart from the very occasional dormouse, bird or cat, the dramatis personae of the series is restricted to the White Rabbit, representing the artist, and Alice, symbolic avatar of his adored Barbara.
(For more on these paintings: Charles Blackmans: Alice in Wonderland works are beautiful illustrated in Geoffrey Smith and Felicity St John Moore, Charles Blackman: Alice in Wonderland, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2006.)