Alice in process…

Instead of the question “Who is Alice?” there are now paths leading to what Alice might come to be…

29 Jun 2010

My personal Alice

Charles Blackman

Joyce Carol Oates

No work of art so thrills us, or possesses the power to enter our souls deeply and perhaps even irreversibly, as the "first" of its kind. The luminous books of our childhood will remain the luminous books of our lives.

Charles Blackman

For me, it was Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass," a Christmas gift from my grandmother when I was 8 years old. First of all, I was enchanted by the book as a physical object, for there were few books in our rural household: both Alice tales were published in a single, wonderful volume (Grosset & Dunlap, 1946) with reproductions of the famous illustrations by John Tenniel, almost as fascinating to me as the tales themselves. There was a dreamlike cover showing Alice amid the comical-grotesque Carroll creations that, to an adult eye, bear a disturbing kinship with the comical-grotesque creations of Hieronymus Bosch, and this cover, too, was endlessly fascinating. In my memory, this first important book of my life was quite large, about the size of what we call today a coffee-table book, and heavy; but when I investigate -- for of course I still have the book in my 19th-century British bookcase, along with "The Hunting of the Snark," Lewis Carroll's "Bedside Book," and other Carroll titles -- I discover to my surprise that it measures only 6 1/2 by 9 inches! A quite ordinary-sized book after all.

Grosset & Dunlap, 1946

Charles Blackman

What is the perennial appeal of the Alice books? If you could transpose yourself into a girl of 8, in 1946, in a farming community in upstate New York north of Buffalo, imagine the excitement of opening so beautiful a book to read a story in which a girl of about your age is the heroine; imagine the excitement of being taken along with Alice, who talks to herself continually, just like you, whose signature phrase is "Curiouser and curiouser," on her fantastic yet somehow plausible adventure down the rabbit hole, and into the Wonderland world. It would not have occurred to me even to suspect that the "children's tale" was in brilliant ways coded to be read by adults and was in fact an English classic, a universally acclaimed intellectual tour de force and what might be described as a psychological / anthropological dissection of Victorian England. It seems not to have occurred to me that the child-Alice of drawing rooms, servants, tea and crumpets and chess, was of a distinctly different background than my own. I must have been the ideal reader: credulous, unjudging, eager, thrilled. I knew only that I believed in Alice, absolutely.

Charles Blackman

The influence of the "Alice" books on my inner life is surely incalculable. I'd more or less memorized them as a child from repeated readings. (I've subsequently written on the subject, and have several times taught "Alice" in university courses.) At any time, in any place, appropriate or otherwise, including even listening as I'm being introduced to give readings or lectures, and often in social or professional gatherings, the Alice-voice rises to consciousness and I hear "Curiouser and curiouser" -- "Who cares for you? You're nothing but a pack of cards!" -- "Twas brillig and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;/All mimsy were the borogoves,/And the mome raths outgrabe" -- "Take care of yourself! Something's going to happen!" Impossible to know if a fictitious character has provided me with a "voice," or whether my natural voice was nearly identical with Alice's.

Charles Blackman

To descend down a rabbit hole, to push through a mirror in a drawing room, to enter that "other world" of the imagination -- this is Alice's destiny, as it might be said to be our collective destiny, if only we value it and cultivate it. For the artist of any kind, the experience is life itself. What is most wonderful about the "Alice" tales, for a child reader at least, is that though they contain nightmare material, and are, intermittently, really quite frightening, Alice triumphs in the end; she retains a fundamental reason, fair-mindedness and sense of justice, as well as a necessary sense of humor, and at the end of both adventures she "wakes" to her real life about which we know nothing other than that she has a sister and there are several kittens in the household. Not for Alice, our Alice, the fate of children in the crueler of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, for Alice is the self's very obduracy, forever innocent, and blessed.

Charles Blackman

Joyce Carol Oates is the author of "Blackwater" and many other books. Her new novel, "We Were the Mulvaneys" was published in September, 1996.

I found this text HERE
More about Joyce Carol Oates HERE
More about Charles Blackman HERE

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"Charles Blackman's Alice in Wonderland paintings of 1957 are considered by many to be the pinnacle of his creative achievement; they are certainly one of the most celebrated series in twentieth-century Australian art. As with Sidney Nolan and his Kelly paintings, the Alice in Wonderland paintings was a series to Blackman returning regularly, revisiting the inspiration of Louis Carroll's stories and revising his own pictorial inventions throughout his career.

Blackman recalled his elation on first reading Carroll: 'I was absolutely thrilled to bits with it... and it seemed to sum up for me at that particular moment my feelings toward surrealism, and that anything could happen...'υ1 And the anythings continued to happen after 1957. In 1976, for example, Blackman created two new Alice images, Alice in Wonderland, in 1984 he was involved in creating the designs for the Alice in Wonderland ballet in Buderim, Queensland, and in 1986 he created the collages and illustrations for Nadine Amadio's fantasy The new adventures of Alice in rainforest land.

The present work is not from the original series, but a softer and less aggressive rendering. It does however combining many of the key elements of the Alice in Wonderland iconography such as Alice's left shoe, the cups, clocks, the Mad Hatter's top hat and the image of the eternal girl-child, Alice herself. These symbols are arrayed busily, chaotically, surrealistically, across a ground which recalls both the chessboard in Alice Through the Looking Glass and the perspective-chequered table of the important Triptych (1965), in the present sale 1. "

From Sotherby's auction. Found HERE

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