It has been said that Lewis Carroll’s famous story Alice in Wonderland, was a reaction against the strict structure and rules of Victorian English Society by some literary commentators. I have an affinity for this point of view, sometimes having the same frustrations with our current society and asking myself why we humans have set up the world this way.
When I was a child, I listened to the story of Alice in Wonderland over and over. It was an LP record, an abridged version of the story where all the characters had American accents. I loved it.
Later as an art student, at Curtin University in the late 1980’s I used to visit the Art Gallery of WA which has a large Blackman painting of Alice in shades of blue, called “Down the Rabbit Hole” in the permanent collection. Whenever I visited the gallery I made a point of finding this painting and seeing if it was on display.
After finishing art school, I found a book on Charles Blackman at my local library, filled with coloured images of his paintings, I had it out for months continually renewing it, I just didn’t want to give it back. Eventually I did and my work took another direction. It was years later that I became re-aquainted with the story when my daughter was in primary school. She won the book and I read it to her. This Alice, the original completely unabridged was much better than what I had known as a child. Humerous and intelligent, I could see why artists from Blackman to Dali had been inspired by this story.
Ideas had been fermenting in my head for some time, when several years later I went to Bali to run a Linocut workshop, which I now run every January. We stayed in Ubud, in a place where the magical garden was even more exotic that the one Alice wanted to get into. After teaching the workshop, I embarked on linocuts for a show at the Firestation Print Studio in Melbourne.
Images flowed, my images took on their own life, breaking away from the story and becoming my metaphor for everything in my world, all of my experiences seemed to present themselves as Alice images. Rather than illustrating the story I reinterpreted it, using the symbols to tell my own stories. You can see all the images from this series here https://shanajames.com/understanding-alice-images-2/
In an essay about the exhibition Dr Ric Spencer wrote.
“Understanding Alice prompts and pushes at Shana’s comprehension of her own journey, of herself wrapped up in space and time, nestled and wrestled through experiences. As an escapade of Symbology Understanding Alice pits the dreamlike nature of the world against the reality of life being a very real set of events and circumstances.”
My next exhibition was as part of a group show for the 2016 year of Print at Heathcote Gallery in Applecross Perth. Seven Printmakers Respond to Place. Initially I thought I would drop Alice as a theme for this place related work. As images flowed and didn’t flow, it became apparent that the Alice theme would continue (nothing else would work). Exploring the psychological aspects of place, I called this body of work, Falling into Place – which is what Alice literally did. These works are drypoints with a very different quality to the linocuts from the first show; the velvety quality of the line contributing to the dream like nature of the work. You can see all the work for this series here https://shanajames.com/falling-into-place-from-the-seven-printmakers-respond-to-place-exhibition/
I am now part way through a masters of visual art at Edith Cowan University, where I am continuing to examine Alice. Aren’t we all trying to navigate this strange world and get into that beautiful garden?
See videos about the Alice Work here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pZAdpIrDSY&list=PLKKTxwHvni5-a5osqMB4BGXiFCDiUGIoL