Acrostics: A Double Collaboration

For a Renaissance Man, an acrostic is an irresistible pastime. It combines the qualities of a puzzle with poetry and so draws on one’s intellectual and creative faculties.

To me and, I expect, many other readers it must have appeared that Graham Ovenden disappeared from the face of the Earth after publishing his last well-known books in the 1990s. I was intrigued by a title I had not seen before owned by a serious collector who was liquidating his collection. It was Acrostics: Pictured in rhyme & colour (2003) published by Artists’ Choice Editions in Oxford. Over the years, I had met only a handful of people who knew of this work and its contents. I later learned that was because the commercial edition consisted of only 240 signed copies augmented with 24 specials and 5 “Exemplaries”.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (1a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (1b)

Except for ‘Anouchka’ in the Artists’ Choice Edition version, images were printed in diptych form.  I am showing most of them as individual panels to make them more legible and to show off the detail of Partridge’s work.

In the course of researching this mysterious volume and background information on the artist for his original post, I learned that Ovenden is fond of collaborating with and encouraging other artists. Accompanying the images and poetry is the excellent decorative artwork of Brian Partridge. Partridge is an astounding artist and will be featured in a dedicated post to be published soon. He met Ovenden for the first time in 1982 while visiting him at Barley Splatt for a long weekend in the company of Keith Spencer, who published a magazine called The Green Book where his drawings first appeared in print.

The first acrostics to be published were in Ovenden’s monograph published by Academy Editions in 1987 featuring Daisy and Tilly. These particular examples were destroyed in a motorcycle accident near London while being carried by a courier.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – ‘Daisy’ from Graham Ovenden (monograph, 1987)

The next publication to include an acrostic from the proposed book was in ‘The Ruralists’ issue of Art & Design magazine (profile no. 23, Volume 6, 9/10 1990). This was a colored pencil portrait by Ovenden.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Art & Design, Volume 6, (9/10 1990)

No other acrostics appeared in print until the finished Artists’ Choice Editions version in 2003. The book contains only 12 designs and accompanying text but was intended to have a half dozen more. Due to some mixup, those did not end up getting printed. The missing images did appear in the specials and exemplaries as those were hand-printed and assembled. ‘Amy’, ‘Eve’ and ‘Anna’ shown below were among the omitted items.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (2a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (2b)

Renowned novelist Joanne Harris wrote the introduction for this book and others for Ovenden and, conversely, he illustrated one of her novels as well. Along with a brief history of this art form, she recounts a visit to Barley Splatt along with her husband and daughter.

I have been an admirer of Graham Ovenden for nearly twenty years, although we only met face-to-face in 2002, when I contacted him to commission a portrait of my daughter, Anouchka. Arriving (rather nervously) at Graham’s home, the legendary Barley Splatt, on a glorious summer’s day, my husband, my daughter and I were greeted by a serene and genial gentleman with a mischievous smile who immediately invited us to join him for a walk up the river. We accepted, little suspecting that up the river meant precisely that; a mile-long walk along the bed of a clear and fast-moving little river, while Graham, in boots, gaiters and floppy hat, glided ahead of us, impervious to rocks, brambles or the occasional stretches of deep water which soaked him to the waist. We took off our shoes and joined him; my daughter with the immediate, unquestioning glee of a puppy off the leash, my husband and I with a hesitancy that quickly—and rather to our surprise turned to pleasure.

I suspect it was a test; a means of determining if we had the spirit, the humour and the joie-de-vivre to cherish a work of art by Graham Ovenden. I suppose we passed; in any case, a few days later he presented us with an acrostic poem dedicated to our daughter, with a handwritten postscript, river-walking will never be the same again. -Joanne Harris, July 2003

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (3a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (3b)

Of course, the most famous examples of acrostics familiar to Pigtails readers are those of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll).

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—
Children three that nestle near;
Eager eye and willing ear;
Pleased a simple tale to hear—
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen lo waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near
In at Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

I must concur with Harris that Ovenden seems a logical and worthy successor to Carroll in many ways.

For me, it is with Lewis Carroll—and his natural successor, Graham Ovenden—that acrostic verse has the most resonance and style. Both are artists who combine a strong visual aesthetic with a deceptive, childlike simplicity. Both are unashamedly eccentric, taking pleasure in the whimsical and the grotesque. Both are chroniclers of the photographic image, with a particular sensitivity to the transience of youth and beauty.

Both have a special, almost pagan reverence for children and Nature. Both share a deep nostalgia for a golden past that has never quite existed beyond the mystic state of grace represented by childhood. -Joanne Harris, July 2003

It is hard to account for all the variations in the images. Once Partridge submited his drawings, Ovenden might trim them to better show off the particular portrait. If, in hindsight, he was still not pleased with the final result, he would make further revisions for the special editions. For example, his original concept for Eve was fairly simple. But pleased with the results of one of his paintings of this model, Tess, he decided to use that instead.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – ‘Eve’ (original, 1985)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (4a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (4b)

Ovenden’s original intent was to produce special drawings for each of the portraits, but this plan never materialized. Therefore, the images have a raw on-the-fly quality that reflects the creative impulse of the artist. These works were not planned from beginning to end, but were composed as the muse struck him. Thus an image could be based on almost any medium: photograph, painting, drawing or one of these modified on computer.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (5a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (5b)

Juliette Liberty (what a wonderful name!) is Peter Blakes’ daughter. You will recognize this image from the ‘Fall from Grace?’ post.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (6a)

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2003) (6b)

In reviewing the history of this project, Partridge got motivated to better document the details. Although an enjoyable process, he did have an odd feeling of “curating my own past”. There are still a few examples that have yet to be used in any final pieces.

Brian Partridge – original drawing for prospective acrostic ‘M’ (1986)

The story does not end in 2003. Since this is a work of inspirational impulse, new pieces have been added. Although Ovenden’s original books were well-sourced and researched, he was not pleased with the production value of the images themselves. So he took it upon himself to learn the craft of printmaking and began publishing hand-printed books with museum-quality paper and bindings. These are fairly expensive volumes for a select clientele which created the impression that Ovenden was no longer productive. He began publishing under the name Garage Press, mostly expensive tomes with a few commercial productions thrown in such as Robin Hanbury-Tenison’s Echos of a Vanished World (2012). So since about 2015, there has been an updated hand-produced version of Acrostics available. Below is one of the new additions to the volume that now contains more than 20 diptychs.

Graham Ovenden and Brian Partridge – Acrostics (2015)

There is a lot more to the Garage Press story and efforts are underway to print more commercial productions that would be accessible to the general public. My next major post will be about this story and give an overview of the titles currently available and what arrangements can be made for the more serious collectors among you to purchase them. And as mentioned above, Brian Partridge’s long overdue post will follow shortly thereafter.

Frances MacDonald

Initially I started with a single image which Christian had sent me, wondering if I knew anything else about it. It was by Frances MacDonald, and I didn’t, but I did immediately notice its resemblance to the work of another artist frequently associated with both the Art Nouveau and Symbolist movements: Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This was no accident. MacDonald was a member of the Glasgow art collective known as The Four, which also included Mackintosh—easily the best known of them—as well as Frances’s better-known sister, Margaret MacDonald (who married Mackintosh) and Frances’ own husband, James Herbert McNair.

The men and women initially knew each other from being students at the Glasgow School of Art, where they quickly took up with each other. In examining the work of all four, it’s easy to see why Charles ultimately gravitated to Margaret while James favored Frances. Charles and Margaret’s work is characterized by tight expressive lines, bold geometrical patterns and intricate detail while James and Frances preferred a looser, muddier style which was, nonetheless, no less elegant than that of their more celebrated compatriots. This style arises most surely from their preferred medium: watercolors.  And all four were clearly influenced by the Celtic motifs of their native country of Scotland.

Of the four, it appears to be Frances’s art which most frequently makes use of children as subjects, girls especially, like those in the scenes below. The first, A Paradox, is the image I received from Christian. It would seem to be a wedding procession, with the nude young bridesmaids or flower girls parading close to the betrothed couple. The scene evokes or references antiquity, where small children often went without clothing up until about age 7 or 8 or so.

Frances MacDonald – A Paradox (1905)

Frances MacDonald – Child in a Rose Bowl

Frances MacDonald – Sleeping Princess (1909)

Frances MacDonald – Sleeping Princess (1909)(detail)

Unfortunately, only a fraction of Frances’s overall work still exists, as her husband destroyed much of it after her untimely demise at the age of 48. One wonders why he felt the urge to do such a destructive act. Was it out of grief, or something more base like jealousy? Perhaps she even requested he do this if she passed on before him, the same way Lewis Carroll requested of his relatives the destruction of the remainder of his photographic work. I simply don’t know, but whatever the case, the world was no doubt cheated of some truly wonderful art.

Note: citations for some of these images credit MacDonald under her married name, Frances McNair.  -Ed.

Anthropomorphism and the Impossible Standard

For many of us, Christmas is a sentimental time.  During the holiday season, there is much preparation for gatherings of friends and family.  Anticipation is the most intoxicating part and children whet their appetites for the coming of St. Nicholas by watching the numerous animated specials produced over the years.  Particularly successful was a Rankin-Bass production called Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), based roughly on a song by the same name.

A strange thing occurred to me while reviewing these classics this year.  First of all, as a grown-up I could appreciate what it was that made these special so appealing (or overrated) and secondly, I took a closer look at the role of Clarice, Rudolph’s girlfriend.  Strictly speaking, she is a reindeer, not a little girl; but it is clear that the intent was that all characters, man or beast, were really stand-ins for human roles.

Larry Roemer, Romeo Muller, Robert May and Johnny Marks – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Using an animal stand-in not only makes the character more appealing to children, but they can sometimes be endowed with some superhuman feature associated with that species (loyalty of dogs, courage of horses, wisdom of owls, etc.)  I got to thinking how the role of Clarice informed my idea of the ideal little girl/girlfriend in my youth and how hard it is to shake this idealism when dealing with real women in the real world.  Wouldn’t it be nice if every misfit in the world had an unconditionally compassionate companion to encourage him/her while facing the harsh challenges of the world?

Native American Beauties: Part 2

The Indians of the Americas are admired for their freedom and independence.  Although their traditional culture based on hunting has disappeared from most of the Americas, its legend will always live on.

The first photograph is of a Southern Cheyenne girl holding a bow and arrows.  I estimate that the photo was taken in about 1890.  To put that date in context, here are some of the things that happened in that era:  by 1883 the great bison herds had been destroyed and the traditional life of the buffalo hunters was no longer possible; in 1890 the census bureau declared that the frontier, the border between the White-inhabited United States and Indian country, no longer existed;  in October 1898 the last official battle of the Indian Wars of the United States was fought at Leech Lake; and on 29 August, 1911 the stone age in the United States came to an end when the last surviving Yahi Indian came to “civilization”.  The demure little Cheyenne girl in the photo no doubt saw a lot of change in her lifetime.

Photographer unknown – A Southern Cheyenne Girl (c1890)

It may seem a little incongruous that the girl is holding a bow and arrows; we usually associate weapons with males.  While the photo is obviously a studio portrait, and the bow and arrows may be merely a photographer’s prop, it is not necessarily inappropriate for a female to be photographed with a bow.  It may be surprising, but a few of the Indian warriors were female.  Nonhelema, known to the Whites as “Grenadier Squaw”  first achieved renown as a Shawnee warrior during the Battle of Brushy Run in 1764.  During the Revolutionary War she was a chief, and one of the few Indians to support the American side.  Her service to the American Army as a guide, interpreter, and warrior were invaluable to the cause of American Independence.

The next two portraits are from the same era.  Both are of Lakota Sioux girls, and both girls traveled with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  To a person in the 21st century, it may seem strange that Indians were honored performers in a popular show at a time when the Indian War was in progress.  It may also seem strange that the portrait of an Indian chief in a war bonnet was on U.S. one-cent coins during the Indian Wars.  (Actually the design of the Indian head cent was based on a drawing of a 12-year old girl wearing an Indian war bonnet.)

Photographer unknown – Lizzie, Daughter of Sioux Chief, Long Wolf (c1890)

Elliot and Fry – Wa-Ka-Cha-Sha (Red Rose) The Pet of the Sioux (1887)

The next four photographs are also Sioux girls.  The Sioux, more properly known as Dakota or Lakota, depending on the dialect they speak, are perhaps the most famous Indian nation in the United States.  The Sioux dress, as shown in these photos, is what most people envision when they think of “Indian”.  In the present, some tribes that wore quite different clothing formerly have adopted clothing based on the Sioux for ceremonial occasions.  Two of the photos are by well-known photographers, John Alvin Anderson and Edward Curtis.  The beaded swastikas on the dress of one of the Lakota girls represent a common symbol, widely used by many American Indian tribes long before the German National Socialist Workers (Nazi) Party made it infamous.

John Alvin Anderson – Katie Blue Thunder, age 8, a Brule Sioux (1898)

Heyn Photo – Her Know, Dakota Sioux (1899)

Edward Curtis – Daughter of American Horse (1908)

Photographer unknown – Lakota Girls (c1900)

The following five photographs are of girls of various tribes from the United States.  The first is a studio portrait of two Kiowa girls in fancy dress.  The second is a postcard portrait of a pretty Mesquakie (aka Fox) girl.  The third is a tinted postcard cute little girl of an unknown tribe.  The fourth is a Hupa girl of California wearing elaborate beadwork.  The Hupa are one of the few tribes to retain most of their land to the present time.  The fifth photo shows a Seminole mother and daughters in Florida.  The monochromatic image does not show the bright colors preferred by the Seminoles and related Mikasukis for their dresses.

C.C. Stolz– Kiowa Indian Girls (c1890-1907)

Photographer unknown – Mesquakie Girl (c1915)

F.A. Rinehart – Untitled (1905)

Patterson – The Fair Little Indian Maid (c1930)

Photographer unknown – Seminole Mother with Her Children Including Five Day Old Baby (1948)

The American Indians are the original people of the continents of North and South America.  So far, this post has only mentioned Indians of the United States.  The following photos are all of Indians outside of the United States.  The first is a portrait of a Stoney girl posed in front of Tipis in Banff, Canada.  The Stoney Indians are closely related to the Sioux, and speak a similar language.

Photographer unknown – Stoney Indian Girl (c1900)

The next photo is from Mexico.  It may be found on the official Mexican government site for The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia here.  Although the girls are not specifically identified as Indians, they have Indian features.  Most Mexicans are either Indian or an Indian-White mix, and it is unlikely that girls of the Mexican elite white class would bathe outdoors in a river.  The girls’ pose seems a bit unnatural, and their facial expressions seem to imply they have been chastised.  I don’t know the story behind the photo, but this is my idea of what happened.  Scott, the photographer, was making a photographic record of life in the area.  Bathing in rivers is a typical part of life, so he felt that he must photograph the girls, perhaps when they were in the water so most of their bodies were not visible.  When the girls saw the photographer, they got out of the river and posed naturally.  Scott then reprimanded them for their lack of modesty, and instructed them to adopt the shy poses.  This is merely my personal interpretation of the photo, but it seems to fit the poses and facial expressions.

W. Scott – Niñas Bañistas en un Río (c1904)

The next photograph is a postcard from Brazil.  This photograph of an Indian mother and daughter was posed, yet appears much more natural than the previous photo from Mexico.  I was not able to find the photographer or date of the picture, but when researching it I found an image of the postcard with cancelled Brazilian postage stamps affixed.  This demonstrates that in Brazil, the postcard was respectable enough to be sent in the mail, in spite of the nudity of the subjects.  I wonder if the postcard would be acceptable to postal authorities in this country.

Photographer unknown – Brasil Indias Kamaiuras del Alto Xingu (c1965)

Perhaps there is a different attitude about such things in Brazil.  The following photograph of the Kuarup ceremony at the Kalapalo Indian village features nude girls dancing in the Kuarup ceremony.  It is from the official web page of the government of the State of Mato Grosso, Brazil.  The photo is published here.

Photographer unknown – Celebração do Kuarup no Parque Indígena do Xingu, na Aldeia Kalapalo (2006)

Album Cover Art – Winter 2017 Edition

Well, we all somehow made it to the end of 2017 alive. In that time I’ve gathered up several album covers that I thought were worth sharing. Our first album up is a modern take on the Little Red Riding Hood myth. One of these days I will make a proper LRRH post because there is so much fantastic art surrounding this theme, but for now you’ll have to settle for this. This is the cover for Declan “Dec” Burke‘s album Destroy All Monsters. Burke is a veteran of prog rock, performing in the bands Darwin’s Radio (who took their name from a Greg Bear sci-fi novel) and Frost*. This album, Burke’s solo debut, features the more poppy side of prog music. In fact, it reminds me quite a bit of late 80s pop, like Genesis and Peter Gabriel. The title, of course, is a reference to the classic Japanese kaiju film of the same name.

Artist Unknown – Dec Burke – Destroy All Monsters (cover) (2010)

This next cover is from an album by the female-led garage rock/punk act Demolition Doll Rods. The image should be familiar to everyone at this point in some form or fashion. It’s practically iconic at this point and is usually accompanied by some one-line joke like, “So that’s why I make less money than you.” Anyway, it was bound to crop up on some album someday, and so it did, appearing on the front of DDR’s 2006 release There Is a Difference.

Artist Unknown – Demolition Doll Rods – These Is a Difference (front cover) (2006)

Meanwhile, the back cover featured a small photo of three toddler-age children—two girls and a boy—in various states of undress, presumably representing the three band members.

Artist Unknown – Demolition Doll Rods – These Is a Difference (back cover) (2006)

Okay, so this next one is sort of cheating because it’s easy to use covers from child singers. I could fill several posts with those alone. But this one is exceptionally nice, I think. It’s the cover of the debut EP from 2016 America’s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal, called Perfectly Imperfect. Grace has a particularly striking face anyway, and then the addition of the colorful illustrated elements transposed over an elegant black & white photo of the young musician just make this cover stand out from the pack. Her new album, her first LP Just the Beginning, also has a beautiful cover, front and back, but I just really dig the artiness of this EP cover.

Photographer Unknown – Grace VanderWaal – Perfectly Imperfect (cover) (2016)

Next up is an album cover which features several of my favorite things for a cover: a fantasy element (an archaic dragon rendered in what appears to be sculpted leather or wood), a trippy, oddly colored photo of the band as viewed through a fish-eye lens, and, of course, a little girl. This is the cover for New Wave band Squeeze‘s Some Fantastic Place. I really wish I knew the story behind this cover. The little girl may be the daughter of or otherwise related to one of the band members, but who knows? All I know is it’s a really beautiful cover, and it’s a great album too!

Photographer Unknown -Squeeze – Some Fantastic Place (cover) (1993)

And the eponymous single from the album also features the same little girl, along with a second girl of about the same age.

Photographer Unknown -Squeeze – Some Fantastic Place (single cover) (1993)

And here is the cover for only release so far from Major Organ and the Adding Machine, a supergroup comprised of various members of a musical collective called Elephant 6. The album is self-titled and was released in 2001. Beyond that I know little about it.

Artist Unknown – Major Organ and the Adding Machine – Major Organ and the Adding Machine (cover) (2001)

This next is from a single release by Danish singer (sounds a bit like ‘Moo’), and the song is a cover of the Spice Girls tune Say You’ll Be There. Fittingly, MØ’s album art features a photo of five young girls dressed and performing as the Spice Girls.

Photographer Unknown – MØ – Say You’ll Be There (cover) (2014)

And here we have the cover for the dream pop group Beach House‘s album Thank Your Lucky Stars. The photo on the cover is of the band vocalist Victoria Legrand’s mother when she was a little girl and was taken in the 1950s. The girl is holding up a doll or figurine still in its packaging, which suggests the photo was either taken at Christmas or during the girl’s birthday. Whatever the case, it’s a charming photo.

Photographer Unknown – Beach House – Thank Your Lucky Stars (cover) (2015)

The cover photo on Cairo’s A History of Reasons is a bit too grainy, but I liked the concept enough to post it. I could find almost nothing on the web about this band other than they are a folk/indie group from Toronto.

Photographer Unknown – Cairo – A History of Reasons (cover) (2015)

Now we have what may be my favorite cover of the bunch, Olivia Chaney‘s The Longest River. Chaney is also a folk musician, albeit British this time, and seeing this photo just makes me melt. I assume this is a photo of a father and his daughter but I could not verify that. The graphic element which comprises the off-center frame around the photo is a representation of the Egyptian goddess Nut. (Compare against images on Google.) In addition to its wonderful cover image, the album has the added benefit of being quite good.

Photographer Unknown – Olivia Chaney – The Longest River (cover) (2015)

The artwork featured on this next album, which is The Getaway by Red Hot Chili Peppers, is a painting by Kevin Peterson. You really should take a look at Peterson’s website as there are tons of paintings of little girls, usually alongside animals of various sorts or against graffiti-covered walls. In fact, he really warrants a post of his own on Pigtails. Anyone want to volunteer?  The painting itself is called Coalition II, and Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, in an interview on the Kevin and Bean show, explained why they chose it for the cover: “Normally we get a little more highbrow artsy, and this just felt extremely warm and human. Even though it’s animals, it felt human. And it’s also us. Chad is the bear, Josh is the girl, and Flea is the raccoon, and me as the funny little raven out front.”

Kevin Peterson – Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Getaway (cover) (2016)

And here is the actual painting in full:

Kevin Peterson – Coalition II

Our penultimate album cover is for alt rock/alt country band Lambchop‘s album Nixon. The painting on the cover was done by Wayne White, a longtime friend of the band’s singer. White has done other artworks for Lambchop albums but this one is my favorite. It’s designed to resemble one of those old collectible postcards for particular US towns or cities.

Wayne White – Lambchop – Nixon (cover) (2000)

And last but certainly not least, our sole example from a non-Anglophone country is this cover for Gente da Gente, by Brazilian group Negritude Júnior. In a world that seems to be growing more and more hostile to the notion of racial diversity, I find this cover to be disarmingly sweet and lovely. I think the idea here is that, stripped of our personal and cultural pretenses, we’re all pretty much the same. I tried to find a super-high quality version of this image on the web but this was the best I could do. Perhaps someone out there might like to buy this album and do a high-pass scan of the cover? If not, this version isn’t too bad, I think.

Edit: A reader has shared a link in the comments section to a better version of this image. Rather than simply replace it, however, I am going to leave the original and add the new version, but as it is the better version, I’m placing it first. 🙂 I did find the version at the link to be a bit washed out though, so I pushed up the saturation and contrast levels a bit and removed the halftone enough to still maintain clarity. – Pip

Photographer Unknown – Negritude Júnior – Gente da Gente (cover) (1995) (1)

Photographer Unknown – Negritude Júnior – Gente da Gente (cover) (1995) (2)

And that concludes our album cover posts for this year. Happy holidays, everyone!

 

 

A Dreamlike Fairy Piece

Estella Louisa Michaela Canziani was a painter and illustrator born in London in 1887. Her mother, Louisa Starr, was also a painter, though in a much more conventional mode, and I prefer the daughter’s work to the mother’s. Canziani tended towards supernatural themes, particularly fairies, and religious themes. Both thematically and stylistically her work fits well into the Symbolist tradition, although at the tail end of it. Here we have one of her loveliest and most memorable paintings. As a knight holding a newborn infant bends down to baptize or wash the child, fairies suddenly emerge from the brook to offer the babe their blessings. I searched the web for a larger version of this image but was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, I’ll keep looking.

Estella Canziani – Fairies Bless the Newborn Child (1923)

 

Samantha Everton’s Vintage Dolls

I must apologize to Arizona and Pigtails readers for not getting to this sooner.  Ideally, this would have been posted before Halloween.  -Ron

Back in 2015 Pip produced a Halloween themed post featuring the work of Samantha Everton. As this is not the artist’s only project to feature girls, I thought it would be a good idea to create another Halloween post featuring her series entitled ‘Vintage Dolls’, which also has a spooky feel to it.

Everton is a multi-awarded and exhibited photographic artist who completed a degree in photography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. When she graduated in 2003, she was at the top of her class and had also received her first awards, one for having the Highest Aggregate Score Winner for photography students and the other was the Steve Vizard Most Creative Folio Award.

Samantha Everton – Adagio – (2008)

The creation of her photo shoots can sometimes take a year, from sketching the idea, finding the location, sourcing the props, then the models and even deciding on how the styling, hair and makeup appears. In her ‘Vintage Dolls’ shoot the house was the most time consuming prop to find, largely because Everton planned on partially demolishing it. After many months of searching she found a house that was about to be torn down, which also had an owner who was willing to give her complete control of the building. After signing a one month lease she set about changing the appearance of the place by putting up wallpaper, smashing holes in walls and planting a tree in the lounge room.

Samantha Everton – Masquerade – (2008)

The series ‘Vintage Dolls’ is a collection of twelve works depicting several children participating in a surreal game of dress-up and make believe, however the artist never explains the symbolism or narrative content of the images, instead leaving the viewer to guess the meaning behind the photographs. She does give some clues as she explains that:

The house had a ghostly feeling and remnants of a past life; it juxtaposed against the playfulness of the children … It’s like the children are in an attic and they’re play-acting but on a deeper level, I wanted to show how children interact with culture and how they absorb and re-enact what they see. I wanted there to be a child with whom each person could identify.

The two images below show how surreal some of these images can become with the aforementioned tree, featuring in Nocturne, and a levitating cat, appearing in Camellia.

Samantha Everton – Nocturne – (2008)

Samantha Everton – Camellia – (2008)

Each of these images are a meter in width and height, therefore some don’t transfer well to small image sizes. For example, in the image entitled Black Forest you cannot tell whether the child on the bed has her eyes open or not, even a small difference like this can change one’s interpretation of the artwork’s meaning. The reason for including it here is because it seems to be the favourite among these images. At the exhibition for this series when other images had either not sold, or had sold up to only three prints, the Black Forest had sold over six prints.

Samantha Everton – Black Forest – (2008)

While the symbolism to that image is complex and obscure, I cannot see beyond the Red Riding Hood imagery. The next is clearly about racism; in Party Dress a young girl stands in front of a mirror, in reality wearing western clothes, but in the reflection she wears the clothes of her home country. The image suggests that the girl is wishing that she was living in a place that is more accepting of her appearance.

Samantha Everton – Party Dress – (2008)

The next two artworks imply a desire to escape something. In Secret Garden one of the girls looks out a hole in the wall but is seemingly unable to get out there. Whereas in the Bewitching Hour one girl, who is the only child in the series to smile, literally takes flight on a flamingo, while the other unsmiling girl is stuck on a bird that stubbornly refuses to move.

Samantha Everton – Secret Garden – (2008)

Samantha Everton – Bewitching Hour – (2008)

The entire twelve images from this series can be seen on Samantha Everton’s website, though these images are rather small and nine larger images can be found at the Arthouse Gallery website. Additionally, if anyone else wants to share their theories about what any of these images could mean then please leave a comment below.

Girlhood as a Marriage of the Sacred and the Profane: Saturno Buttò

Contemporary surrealist painter Saturno Buttò was born in the Portogruaro district of Venice, Italy in 1957. He first began to exhibit his work in 1993, with his first monograph titled Ritratti da Saturno: 1989-1992 (Portraits from Saturn: 1989-1992), a play on his given name. This would be followed by Opere 1993-1999 (Works 1993-1999), Martyrologium (published in 2007), Blood is my favourite color (published in 2012) and finally Breviarium humanae redemptionis, which is currently available for purchase at his website.

Buttò’s portraits often juxtapose style and iconography taken from traditional Christian art with elements of modernity, surrealism and unapologetic sexuality, and this is no less true when the images are of children. The kids—usually girls—in Buttò’s work are both confrontational and loaded with mystery and metaphor. It would be quite easy for shallow and morally sensitive observers to dismiss these works as exploitative and shocking for the sake of being shocking, but that would be a grave mistake. It is the work of artists like Buttò for which Pigtails in Paint was first conceived, those artists who might be controversial and seemingly pugnacious in their depictions of the child’s body, but who nevertheless have something important and honest to say.

These pieces are rife with contradictions and paradoxes which strike at the true core of modern childhood, and girlhood especially, the young girl’s body politicized from so many different angles. In this early piece, we see a toddler girl, Linda, dressed as both a jester and a hamadryad, two personas which couldn’t be more disparate. A tassel suspends from her “trunk” like an oddly low-hanging phallus. In fact, there’s nothing intrinsically feminine about this little toddler. The only hint we have of her femaleness comes from the title of the painting. At this young age, children are fairly androgynous.

Saturno Buttò – Frau, Simon e Linda (1994)

Are they really angels? These little toddlers are dressed as putti, complete with wings attached by an uncomfortable-looking harness. Here we begin to see Buttò’s critique of the way society restrictively frames childhood, especially girlhood, for its own convenience. I suspect the fact that one of the toddlers is indisputably female is no accident either. If we were to move away from the subject of childhood for a moment, this portrait also shows us a realistic and unflattering view of womanhood, as we see Simon shaving her armpit to appease society. On more than one level this can be viewed as a feminist piece, as can many of Buttò’s works.

Saturno Buttò – Simon e tre bimbi (1994)

Here we have a masculine figure holding two more toddlers. Are they twins? Again, note the combination of jester apparel and plants on the children, subtly suggesting that nature is playful and innocent. One can almost think of these children as elves or sprites, beings associated with both nature and trickery, often depicted as children. There’s also something both godlike and satyric about the man in this image. Could this be Dionysus? The title of this peace, Domiziana-Domiziana, is somewhat mysterious. If we were to substitute an ‘o’ for the ‘a’ at the end of these words, we would have the Italian translation for Domitian, a Roman emperor known for his harsh policies and his ruthlessness which eventually led to his assassination. Domiziana would thus be a feminized version of the name, and given that it’s doubled, we can safely assume it applies to the little twins. Surely Buttò isn’t saying that these two little girls are vicious autocrats, is he? But then, toddlers are known for being cranky and demanding.

Saturno Buttò – Domiziana-Domiziana (1997)

It’s quite interesting to see that Buttò’s work thematically ages as many of his recurring subjects mature. Red is a carnal color, and the leather-upholstered throne, which has the little girl’s name on it, is both eroticized and slightly menacing. The little nude Lola herself, brightly lit and tracking something into the otherwise pristine throne room with her bare feet, confronts the viewer with her gaze, her miniature curled pigtails mimicking the horns on the back of the chair. Lola is a force to be reckoned with, and yet she is also vulnerable and defensive, as we look down on her from above, her body turned slightly away from us. Childhood is full of contradictions.

Saturno Buttò – Lola (2004)

This little girl, Solange is again patently feminine, her subtle curves accentuated by the harsh light, and she is also unquestionably a child. She is both confrontational—her eyes meeting ours—and somewhat coy, her face turning away from us. The purple cloak she holds provides a note of nobility as well as echoing certain representations of Jesus. This little girl is both holy in her innocence and sensual in her femininity. She has weight, gravitas. Unlike Lola in the last piece, we are on Solange’s level. Is this an erotic depiction of a child? It depends on how you define erotic. If you mean by that a blatant attempt to turn on the viewer, then I would say no, this piece is not at all erotic. However, to me eroticism is much more than just titillation.

Of course, most child nudes aren’t about eroticism at all, and anyone who sees lewdness in those is certainly projecting. The conflation of simple nudity with sex is mostly an American conceit and demonstrates a simplistic and uninformed view of art. That’s not surprising. Most Americans couldn’t tell their Picasso from a hole in the ground (yes, I’m aware I’ve used that joke before, but I’m quite fond of puns), and they don’t much care. It is all too often a badge of honor for Americans to show just how ignorant and uncultured they really are. Such nuance is beyond them. So they really struggle when presented with an artist like Saturno Buttò, who does invest an element of eroticism in his work but isn’t doing it to sexually arouse. I seriously doubt that Buttò is a pedophile, nor is his work featuring children meant to appeal to them. The idea here is to challenge those simplistic conceptions of the perfectly innocent child which often do more harm than good.

Saturno Buttò – Solange II (2004)

Solange again, this time in the role of the biblical dancer Salomé, who demanded John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Salomé’s salacious dancing done in exchange for John’s head is one of the most famous stories from the Bible and has long been a subject for artists to explore, one of the earliest presentations of the femme fatale in all of literature. It might seem bizarre to depict her as a child, but the fact is we have no idea what Salomé’s actual age is. Knowing what we know about Hebrew customs of the day and interpreting the language of the Bible quite specifically, there’s good reason to believe Salomé was actually a young girl around the age of 12. This puts a completely different spin on the story, doesn’t it? The belief that Salomé was a sultry and experienced woman who used her feminine wiles with some knowing evil intent is one that has developed over time, but the Bible does not actually support that view.

Thus, the seeming contradictions of Buttò’s Lolita-esque Salomé may not be as far removed from the truth as many may think, and that’s the point here. That and the fact that, while we adults may comfort ourselves with the notion that children aren’t thinking dirty thoughts, in reality they are not always as innocent as we might think. It’s interesting to read about the fantasies of young girls with respect to their blossoming sexuality, such as the ones presented in this article. To be sure, acknowledging that children may have a sexuality and that it is often complex is not synonymous with advocating its expression, certainly not with adults. But somehow our culture has arrived at this simple perspective that any intersection of childhood and sex is automatically abuse. It becomes very difficult, then, for artists like Buttò to present a full and honest depiction of childhood, or even of adult sexuality, which is usually rooted in childhood. That picture is left incomplete.

Saturno Buttò – Solange – Salomé (2005)

Danaë is a figure from Greek mythology. Prophecy said that she would bear a son who would kill his grandfather, Danaë’s father, King Acrisius. In order to prevent this from happening, Acrisius locked his daughter in a towering structure without doors or windows, the only entrance being through an open skylight. But naturally, Zeus, being taken with the girl’s beauty, comes to her as a golden rain (no golden shower jokes here, please) and impregnates her, and eventually the prophecy is fulfilled. A frequent subject of classical artists, images of Danaë often include Eros, the love god, who of course is usually represented as a small boy. In Buttò’s piece, it is a little girl  who stands in for Cupid, catching the raindrops in a chalice.

Saturno Buttò – Danaë (2005)

Solange was a frequent model for Buttò throughout 2006. In one we see her as a young saint. In the next, she wears a demonic mask. In the third, she is something between an angel and a demon, a creature which has taken on aspects of both. We can see, faintly, the outline of a uterus. This image can almost be viewed as a throwback (or perhaps a tribute) to the works of the Symbolist painters, for whom woman was both virgin and whore. Only, here the girl is too young to be a whore. The idea is that, beneath her seemingly innocent and childish facade, there lurks a creature on the precipice of sexual flowering. We can see her hips beginning to widen, to take their womanly shape. This is one of the most honest depictions of a preadolescent girl in contemporary art.

Saturno Buttò – Solange (2006)

Saturno Buttò – Solange Mask (2006)

Saturno Buttò – L’età dell’oro (2006)

Solange at the easel. We can almost picture her doing a self-portrait as she examines her own nude body in a mirror positioned somewhere to the left of the picture frame.

Saturno Buttò – Solange al Cavalletto (2007)

And here the girl is about to dig into a blood-red birthday cake. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but I count only nine candles on the cake while the girl is clearly well past nine years—I estimate her age to be between twelve and fourteen here. Intentional or not, I think it hints at every parents’ fear that their child will blossom sexually well before their time. The black-streaked gray Elizabethan wig along with the freakishly organic chair and Buttò’s usual bright red palette gives this image a sort of Bride of Frankenstein feel.

Saturno Buttò – Birthday Party (2007)

Salomé again, even darker and more surreal than the last one. The child rubbing the bristles of the brush against her torso unconsciously echoes a similar scene in the stop-motion animated video for Prison Sex by the rock band Tool. Both the song and the video are about incestuous sexual abuse.

Saturno Buttò – Salomé (2007)

Buttò’s take on a Tarot card: The Star. It’s unfortunate he didn’t do the rest of them. I really would love to own this Tarot deck!

Saturno Buttò – La stella II (2010)

Saturno Buttò – Lola (2011)

Saturno Buttò – Lisa + Alice (drawing) (2014)

Saturno Buttò – Lisa + Alice (2015)

A Little Fairy Postcard

I was sorting some of my art files today and spotted this little fairy postcard. I do not know the artist. One thing I noticed about the little girl is that the artist really feminized her, giving her small breasts and dainty hands and feet. Very Victorian. The background also appears to have been influenced by Asian art.

Artist Unknown – Fairy Postcard