Alice in Wonderland and Matisse study visit

Study visit 21st January 2012

Tate Liverpool- Alice in Wonderland
The Walker Art Gallery- The art books of Matisse

I was eagerly awaiting the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool, so as my second study visit, I was much more prepared and a lot less nervous as we met in the foyer. The exhibition was split over two floors, the ground floor offered a modern take using the underlying theme of ‘Wonderland’ which in some instances just made you wonder what the link with Carroll and the story actually was. Some pieces such as the bright neon lit tubes that formed words hanging over our heads, ‘Tate touché from my madinah: In pursuit of my ermitage’ by Jason Rhoades, was a stunningly visual and eye-catching installation. However it seemed a very tenuous connection to Carroll and could have stood its ground in another exhibition. Highlights for me from the ground floor were the 3 images by Annelies Strba. Her dreamy photographs/manipulations of an Alice like figure floating, feels more in keeping with what we have come to expect from the more traditional view. With the pieces on show here Nyima 438, less layered than the other images, Nyima 405 which seems to be very heavily layered with a composition that seems composed of a chess board black and white floor, a green leafy forest and the Alice character. The other image on display Nyima 445 has very vivid colours that capture the eye with the contrast between the red dress and the purple and green background, and I found the technique used in all the images of having the different layers all blended added a different quality to the art that could be interpreted as dreamlike.

The second part of the exhibition was in a gallery a few floors up, walking up the stairs I didn’t know what to expect on my own journey into the rabbit hole, and on entering the gallery I found it in stark contrast to downstairs, but also to some of the later exhibits. The open white space had gone to be replaced by heavy, dark colours, red walls and velvet drapes creating little rooms with the subdued lighting adding to the Victorian parlour feel. With the exhibition going through a number of rooms and almost winding paths, the flow is confusing and I have to wonder how much of this is a considered effect, and how much is like this due to the layout of the venue. I’d been aware of Carroll’s photographs previously after reading a book by Anne Higonet, but there were certainly some elements in this that surprised me, the connection to the pre Raphaelite brotherhood with work by Rossetti , Holman Hunt, and Hughes was one of these, and even more so the link to surrealism. As a fan of Dali and pre-Raphaelite art, I never expected that I’d see examples of these in the same exhibition and it shows that Carroll had such a wide reaching influence with the themes in Wonderland that future generations have taken the seed and planted it to become something very different but also traceable back to the origins.

As I went through the gallery into the more contemporary artworks, I found that the inspiration from Alice in Wonderland became quite tenuous, in a lot of cases it wasn’t obvious that it was inspired by it, and they could have stood alone outside of this exhibition. One of the stand outs of this section was the work by Anna Gaskell and her prints of a modern day Alice, not only were they large, bright coloured acrylic images, but they had a stand out obvious similarity to Alice that was missing in some of its contemporaries.

All in all, I really enjoyed this exhibition, while it wasn’t without its flaws, there was too much to look through and some parts didn’t flow as well as it could have done, I’d personally like to have seen less to allow me to focus on the areas that I really enjoyed.

 

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Part two of the study day was the art books of Matisse, and I went into this with a totally open mind as I hadn’t previously seen much of his work until I started researching him via the links that were sent over prior to the visit. The first part of the exhibition, I found to be quite understated, drawings to accompany poetry, such as that of Stephanie Mallarme, were either black on white, or white on black, a mixture of strong lines and sweeping lines, some very simple but I found them all very striking and powerful.

The second part of the exhibition was a vivid contrast of colours with these art books such as the famous ‘Jazz’ being on show. Looking at this from my photography perspective, the features that stood out to me were the primary colours, red, blue, yellow, very strong and eye-catching colours. Matisse has a way with strong lines and shapes that are a mixture of curves and jagged edges that managed to convey a sense of energy and movement. Despite the age the books were painted in, 1940’s to 1950’s they seem incredibly modern. Icarus stands out as it is so simple in its form, blue background, bright yellow stars dotted around the outside of the image and a black abstract figure broken up by a small splash of bright red on the chest.

My favourite overall image was ‘Le cheval, l’ecuyere, et le clown’ (The horse, the rider and the clown) from Jazz. The leading lines, strong horse shape and the contrast border really grab my attention. There is plenty of detail in the art, and I find it’s something that I can come back to again and again and not get bored of looking at it.

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