I previously wrote about the illustrations that have graced the Alice books over the years, with a special emphasis on the Surrealists (see my post Illustrating Alice). However this generated such a large response from readers that I soon realised that I had barely scratched the surface, as Alice has been published in thousands of editions in over a hundred languages, with a myriad of differing artistic interpretations worldwide and therefore a follow up post was very much in order.
Several Australian readers mentioned the paintings of Charles Blackman featuring Alice which certainly possess intensity and verve. Also noted was another artist from the Antipodes, (or the Antipathies as Alice called the Land Down Under during her descent down the rabbit hole), Donna Leslie and her brilliant illustrations for the bilingual adaption Alitji In The Dreamtime in Pitjantjatjara and Australian English, that drew heavily on her Aboriginal artistic heritage.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Alice is somewhat of a cultural icon in Japan and Yayoi Kusami, one of Japan’s leading contemporary artists illustrated the recent Penguin Classic edition with over a hundred drawings in her characteristic hallucinogenic dot style.
Sir Peter Blake, the leading exponent of Pop Art in the U.K illustrated the Alice books and also painted watercolours of certain celebrated scenes in a rather groovy, psychedelic style (see header image and my post Glory).
The noted Bulgarian illustrator Iassen Ghiuselev drawings for the Alice books combine a Central European folkloric sensibility with paradoxical perspectives reminiscent of Escher.
Finally featured are two American artists, Barry Moser whose sharp, dark engravings illustrated the Pennyroyal edition of 1982 and the vibrant semi-abstract paintings of Deloss McGraw.
Regulars readers will need no introduction to the wonderful Australian artist Anna Di Mezza, whose uncanny and compelling Surrealistic paintings of a retro parallel dimension have featured many times here (Double Take, Questions & Answers with Anna Di Mezza, Evolution and Transience). 2017 has been a busy and productive year for Anna and I am delighted to showcase her latest postcards from a none too distant Twilight Zone.
As well as experimenting with colour reversals of existing paintings (the subject of a future post), Anna has produced a fine batch of new paintings that expand upon recurring motifs and throw her obsessions into sharp relief. The mysterious crystal formation makes a reappearance in both The Dark Ages, where immaculately coiffed (does anyone do 60’s hairstyles as well as Ms Di Mezza?) ladies participate in an inexplicable séance around the transparent totem, and Eternal. The Messenger sees a return to a vibrant, day-glo Pop Art colour palette with a Futurist handling of motion that makes for a memorably bold image.
The remaining two paintings featured are the startling Blind Privilege and Convenience, with their vivid and visceral representation of cuts of meat. It is hard not to detect a sharp satirical edge in both paintings, especially in the juxtaposition of the witty title of Convenience with the image of the unwinnable (have you ever won? have you ever seen anyone win?) fun-house claw machine dangling over slabs of raw meat while the young girl looks on with an expression of bound to be disappointed anticipation.
The contemporary artist Anna Di Mezza, whose artwork I have featured several times,(Evolution, Questions & Answers with Anna Di Mezza and Double Take) has acknowledged in interviews her admiration for the Italian painter Giorgio De Chirico, whose ground-breaking Metaphysical paintings profoundly influenced the Surrealists. Anna’s latest works are firmly situated in this metaphysical tradition, where the primary focus is to raise questions regarding identity, reality and the creative process.
Transience also possesses elements of Anna’s characteristic Twilight Zone style sensibility. Toward the extreme right side of the painting a portion of a glamorous female face can be seen taking shape, emerging into being. The darker stripe of paint that converges towards the pupil is suggestive of a pencil. The eyebrow is also subject to this effect, though appropriately more reminiscent of a mascara wand. Looking at this painting I get the uncanny feeling that this is a preliminary sketch for an android; that the artist is showing this ersatz figure coming to life before our very eyes. However the reality of images is always fleeting and transitory, fading away when we stop looking, returning only as fragments that haunt our dreams.
Following my recent post and interview with the exciting Australian artist Anna Di Mezza, I am delighted to share Anna’s wonderful new painting Evolution.
Like all art worthy of the name, Evolution raises more questions and possible interpretations then it is prepared to answer. The following analogies are my subjective opinion alone, which Anna (thankfully) wishes to neither confirm or deny.
In the blanched, washed out afternoon light, three wavering, ghostly young women are in the process of a mysterious dissolution; of being rubbed out, literally erased from the picture. The source of the irradiating unreality is a rip (a tear in the space-time continuum?) in the centre of the composition which is half filled with a column of paint and has almost obscured completely one figure, the remaining lower part of her body is elongated and distorted. The two figures to the right are blurring proportionally to their nearest to the tear.
To deepen the mystery further the only spot of bold colour to be seen is the red in the corner of the cut-off doorway. At first glance the ball (or apple) seems to be floating but upon closer examination appears to actually be in place of a head. At the bottom left of the painting an oddly shaped shadow that apparently belongs to a figure outside of the frame can be seen. The relationship between the main group of three figures, the red ball in the doorway and the shadow is ambiguous and unresolved.
Although it appears to me that Evolution presents a scene of disappearance, the title contradicts this interpretation and suggests that actually the figures are evolving into being. Whether it represents a coming into being or an after-image of an hallucination , Evolution is a vivid snapshot from the kind of nightmare you have while falling to sleep watching a late night movie.
Anna Di Mezza is an Australian artist featured in my previous post Double Take. Anna graduated from Billy Blue Design School and worked as an illustrator for Disney Studios before setting out as an independent artist.
I contacted Anna who very kindly agreed to be interviewed and forwarded me a photograph of her new painting The Elevator (see above). For further information and examples of her work please visit her website Anna Di Mezza and her representatives Saatchi Art .
AS) In your Saatchi artist bio you unassumingly state that your primary subject matter is realistic portraits and the odd landscape or two. Although you paint in the photo-realistic manner, the collage like compositions and the Alice-In-Wonderland variations in size and scale completely subvert the conventions of pictorial realism. So when you say that what you paint are realistic portraits are you having some mischievous fun or are they accurate portrayals of your subjective vision? AM) When I first started with Saatchiart my paintings were more in line with conservative renderings of people and landscapes. Later on, I started to evolve as an artist and experimented with conceptual work, which was around three years ago which brings me to where I am now.
AS) How do you select the found images that you incorporate into your paintings? AM) Most of the images I work with are found on the internet. If I am lucky, an image may come by easily, otherwise I have to work hard to look and forage through hundreds of old photos until I find the right one that would work best for my objectives. I try to look for images of anonymous people going on about their daily lives. I want to celebrate their anonymity and uproot the setting for them so they are involved in some sort of narrative that is the fine line between reality and dreams.
AS) A lot of your paintings have a limited mono-chromatic palette yet others have bold, vibrant Pop Art colours. What dictates your use of colour? AM) The photos I paint from are usually in black and white so that usually dictates the reason why I go for these monochromatic colours. I like the occasional use of colour as I enjoy colour too for added visual interest. I would like to experiment a lot more with colour in the near future.
AS).You mention Magritte and De Chirico as influences. Have other surrealists influenced you, if so, who? AM) I’m not sure they would class themselves as Surrealists, but definitely the contemporary painters Paco Pomet and Gottfried Helnwein.
AS) Is the Surrealist influence upon you confined to the works of the figurative, pictorial school or does the other aspects of Surrealism, the abstract, collage and film bear upon your paintings? AM) There is a lot of collage work by contemporary artists I have seen that I admire. They mostly make their art digitally. Some examples are Eugenia Loli and Sammy Slabbinck. Their works are to what I am doing except I paint the images. I admire a lot of left of centre films that have surreal aspects to them. Films from David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick in particular.
AS) In your painting closeencountersmashpotato there is a glitch smear in the bar-code design. Was this deliberate or ‘objective chance’. AM) The glitch smear was an experiment in design rather than an accident. It started out as an aesthetic more than anything else. What was interesting about it was hearing people’s interpretations of the work. As the glitches reminded some people of bar-codes, the painting would be about mass consumerism or tuning a TV to the correct channel until one comes upon a random image.
AS) Does the Surrealist theory of objective chance play a part in your paintings? AM) Yes, most of my work is about juxtaposing people with unrelated backgrounds to create an element of surprise so the theory is prevalent in that way. According to the concept of objective chance, it involved the most powerful imagery which caused the greatest surprise. In order to create marvelous images, Surrealist poets juxtaposed two terms that appeared to conflict with each other but were secretly related. The power of the resulting imagery was directly proportional to their apparent dissimilarity.
AS )Your paintings present a retro vision of the future that never came to pass. Do you experience (as I do) a nostalgia for a time before you were alive? AM) I definitely feel nostalgic for a time that precedes my life. The music, the fashion, the culture, the industrial design from the mid-century to me are the ideal aesthetic therefore I am attracted to this era and keep returning to it for inspiration
AS) David Lynch is quoted as saying that the fifties where a time of tremendous optimism and energy, yet frequently his films show the dark underbelly hidden beneath the shiny surface. What is your view on the immediate past (and its vision of the future) that is frequently displayed in your paintings? AM) What he says is true. At the same time the 50’s were a time when women’s roles were diminished and women were being expected more and more to stay home and be housewives. African-Americans in the South, meanwhile, were living under conditions of segregation. There will always be negative and dark aspects whenever human nature is involved. The space age era would have been a tremendously exciting time to live in thinking about the possibilities of how far humans could go thanks to the power of technology. It is also the idea of the unknown that fascinates me.
AS) Your paintings frequently feature inaccessible and inhospitable landscapes: mountains, Polar Regions and the Moon. Is this conscious romantic symbolism? AM) Inhospitable, yes and even claustrophobic. These people all seem to be caught in a moment in time that they cannot escape and are forever trapped in. The paintings make them appear as if they were meant to be there due to their seeming lack of concern . I am trying to tap into dreamlike states of consciousness in using these places one could not survive in.
AS) Finally what is your favourite movie? AM) There are several films that are superlative. My favourite movie growing up was The time machine (the original 60’s one). I was completely blown away by that film with its fantastic possibilities of ideas of fast forwarding time and the vision of the Eloi future. Other films I love are Antonioni’s “Blow up”, Kubrick’s “Space Oddyssey”, Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and “Rope”, Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr”, and more recently “Under the skin” by Jonathan Glazer.