I have been mad keen on the ‘fairytales and fables’ theme with all of my students. For older artists, I like to keep things a little open ended, so their brief was: “an image inspired by a fairytale”….very broad, I know. We have already had conversations about the ins and outs of fairytale lore…it’s not just the realm of little children, some of them give a great insight into the history of the day…(Did you know that in the timeframe of the Grimm brothers, it was not uncommon for women to die in childbirth…..so, the cliche of the ‘evil stepmother’ found in the most popular fairy tales has some roots in real life situations).
Anyway, I’m really pleased with their efforts; they researched and chose images that had some meaning for them, and learnt the subtleties of using watercolour to boot.
My senior homeschool group have been working (meticulously!) on creating fairytale inspired silhouettes. We had a look at some artwork by Czech artist Divica Landrova (1908- 1982), noting the repetitive shapes and stylised images.
Students then researched some fairytale silhouettes using whatever device they had on hand (phones, iPad, laptops). They sketched their designs onto black paper, then cut out their image using a scalpel or Stanley knife. Some of their designs were very intricate! They then glued their composition on to white paper. These pictures show some of their work in progress!
This painting is on my cupboard door and came about because my husband said, “everything else in our house is painted, that side of the room looks bare”. It was supposed to be (and is, really) a lighthearted, decorative mural….However, it has taken on loads of meaning for me. especially since this is the first thing I have completed in ages; I’ve been struggling with a pretty bad case of artists’ block.
Since researching fairytales and fables as a the theme for my art programmes this term, I have come deeply appreciative of how much these whimsical tales have influenced my art even on a subconscious level. Fairytales can be macabre, but they have a quality about them where we find the most naive and earthly aspects of our humanity is connected to magic and the divine. Princes turn into beasts and bears, children are brought out of intolerable situations through their own courage and wit, animals speak plainly, forests are enchanted ..the whole world is charmed in a fairytale, and anything can happen. There is also something wonderfully redeeming about the phrase “..and they lived happily ever after”.
This painting has aspects of the tale “The Singing Tree”, where a besotted prince takes a magical tree from an evil goblin in the hops of winning the hand of a beautiful, narcissistic princess. The goblin threatens to turn the prince into whatever form he chooses if the princess fails to fall in love with her. Sure enough, the spoilt princess rejects the prince. She is turned into a hag and cast out from the castle; he is turned into a bear. They are forced to live in the forest where the goblin torments them. As a bear, the prince looks after the princess and they eventually fall in love as her heart softens because there are no mirrors to remind her of her ugliness; she finds kindness in her heart instead of self-absorption. Needless to say, in the presence of love the spell is broken “and they lived happily ever after”.
I have been looking at paintings by pre-raphaelite artists. These include artists such as Millais, Burne-Jones and of course Dante Rosetti. They were driven to represent spiritual forms in much the same manner as artists from the Renaissance prior to Raphael, and in the Middle Ages. It was very needed in this time in history, since industrialisation and modernism created a kind of vacuum to artistic expression that was spiritual in subject matter. I love the way their paintings tell a story; and to try to depict celestial beings such as Angels is a noble but at the same time curiously earthly thing to do. I say this because our angels or visions of heaven, no matter how sublime and beautiful are probably to heavens eyes like a child drawing with crayons on a paper napkin. But it’s a joyful thing, and a way that art brings humanity into something bigger than ourselves. It’s also interesting to me how the spiritual realm is so often the subject matter if artists throughout the ages.
The pre-raphaelites, however, perhaps hit on something within our culture at this point in time, maybe as a neo-modernist society (for lack of a better term; I am not sure that our culture can be termed as post modernist anymore, and I have not found a term that fits), we live in somewhat of a cultural desert. Everything is mass produced, and like industrialisation, the demands of productivity are at a premium (collateral from a disposable society). We are in need of the integrity, joy, depth and mystery found in the spiritual, which brings reassurance that not everything is banal and throw-away. That something exists outside of that, beyond clear perception that is more real and meaningful. For me, these pre-raphaelite paintings help me see these things. They touch something deep within my soul, giving almost a feeling of wistful nostalgia.
“…the more materialistic science becomes, the more I shall paint Angels: their wings are my protest in favour of the immortality of the soul” (Edward Burne-Jones)