The last couple of years, Christian has taken to sending me an on-topic holiday card. This year’s card was simply a Renoir reproduction. Thank you Christian and Pigtails in Paint wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday. -Ron
Now we are in the home stretch of the Sublimated Sexuality series (only one more post and it will be completed). If you haven’t already perused them, or you wish to review the series, you can find the other parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
15) Anthropomorphism of animals and objects – With respect to anthropomorphic animals, much of what was said in the animals, masks and monsters categories applies here as well, but I think this separate category is warranted, especially as it includes non-living objects. Anthropomorphism is a common characteristic of children’s media, so it’s natural that it would also occur in pop surrealist art in which children are subjects, particularly in a darkly satirical context.
There’s something a bit leering and creepy about that moon, no?
Ana Bagayan (official site)
James Jean can always by counted on to produce excellent dreamlike imagery. Anthropomorphic flowers? Where have we seen those before? Ah, yes: Alice in Wonderland. I suspect it’s no accident that that particular story is frequently referenced, overtly or otherwise, in this work!
James Jean (official site)
Food is another thing which is often anthropomorphized in this type of art, usually with some rather morbid implications. The title in this next piece is a disturbing pun. The adorable little girl might be regarded as “eye candy” in the symbolic sense, but the cupcake’s eyes are literal eye candy, and one of them is about to be eaten!
Nicoletta Ceccoli (official site)
Rabbits are a commonly anthropomorphized animal in this art. Again, could this be an allusion to Alice? This first image certainly feels quite reminiscent of Carroll’s creation. Note too the resemblance of the rabbit’s pair of pendulums to dangling cherries.
Artnet: Masaru Shichinohe
Stephen Mackey (official site)
16) The presence of death and decay – It makes perfect sense that references to death would also appear in this work, serving as a memento mori to remind viewers that life is short and fleeting, and that there may be an eternal afterlife in which we are judged and dealt with according to how we lived our lives, so we had better not harm anyone, especially the vulnerable . . . such as children. Furthermore, death is disgusting and frightening, so its juxtaposition with children works as another example of dissuasion by association.
Nils Karsten (official site)
Timothy Cummings (official site)
Audrey Kawasaki (official site)
Jackie Skrzynski (official site)
Juniper trees have a fascinating association with death and misfortune. Some may recall the Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Juniper Tree, which involves the murder of a mother and her young son. In Welsh legend cutting down a juniper tree meant the feller was bound to die, and many dream interpreters believe that dreaming of juniper trees is extremely unlucky, especially for those who are ill. Modern horror author Peter Straub also penned a story called The Juniper Tree, about a young boy who is sexually abused by a stranger at a movie theater.
Cornelia Renz (official site)
17) Subversion of religion and the sacred – Complimenting themes of death in this work (or in some cases contrasting against or satirizing them) is the subverting of religious themes, particularly Christianity.
Generally I try to feature only one work per artist in each category, since there are so many worthy artists, but these two paintings by Amy Crehore absolutely have to be featured together as they tell an amusing/disturbing little story. While you’d think it’s the demon who is the true threat here, the second piece in the series reveals who really wields the power!
The Art of Amy Crehore (official site)
Scott G Brooks Studios (official site)
Asia Contemporary Art: Teiji Hayama
Stu Mead (official site)
Heidi Taillefer (official site)
Mike Cockrill (official site)
Mark Ryden does religious satire so frequently that I had a tough time narrowing it down to just one piece. Nevertheless . . .
Mark Ryden (official site)
This next piece is both a subversion of a well-known biblical event (Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac) and a commentary by the artist on the nature of his own work, since dolls feature prominently in his paintings and sculptures. We will definitely see him again in the final installment of this series.
Mikel Glass (official site)
Squarespace: Jana Brike
Leafing through some of Pip’s backlog of random images, this one kind of popped out at me. Mike Berceanu is a commercial artist operating in Sydney, Australia. But no matter how skilled a technician one is, there is always an artistic impulse to be satisfied; this is one of Berceanu’s.
Although the photographer gives an excellent account of his technical methods in producing this image, he does not make any mention of his psychological motivations. All he says is, “In working up an image, [the] first thing I always do is to sketch the idea, in part to crystallise my thoughts but also to create a usable layout.” But what were those thoughts and what is so compelling about a little girl in peril? Like for many artists before, she may be an autobiographical representation of the most vulnerable aspects of the man himself. The ironic part is that Grey Nurse Sharks were used for the composition but they have never been known to attack humans.
Berceanu is quite generous in sharing the technical details of constructing the piece. I suspect the reason some artists are less forthcoming about their “secrets” is the fear that someone may copy them. But the fact is that, whatever expertise one may have, the final result is still a matter of a lot of hard work and why would anyone willing to follow through be discouraged?
The Pigtails Film Database: I am pleased to announce that the first 400 films or so kept in the Pigtails archive are posted on the ‘Pipeline Films’ page. The task was quite daunting as there were so many entries to list. I also had to come up with a consistent scheme since there were so many films not produced or dubbed in English. Films with an asterisk mean that we are still looking for a digital copy of that film. Also, I have only seen one or two percent of the films so I am taking it on faith that readers have sent legitimate leads and not used poor judgment or mentioned films in which the girl does not have a integral or compelling part in the film. Films in which a girl appears in short scenes will be reviewed in a future ‘Random Scenes’ post while more substantial roles will be given dedicated posts. There is often the question of a cut-off age for Pigtails coverage. There is no such definitive age but films about more mature adolescent girls will not be reviewed here but will remain on the database for the readers’ reference. The current layout is preliminary as there are still the wish list items and those films that have already been reviewed on this site to list. Finally, readers will have a better idea of what we have, what we know about and what we don’t. Readers are urged to follow up with interesting details or concerns about films that should not have been listed on the Pigtails database.
Can Child Protection and Freedom of Expression Co-Exist? The problem with most so-called child protection organizations is that they take a simplistic zero-tolerance approach which very often does more harm than good. Also, their attitude and approach often calls into question their own motivations. I received an interesting email last month from someone in the Prostasia Foundation. Their approach is to remain focused on issues of personal freedom while discussing (and providing feedback) on real ways to protect children. This organization is interested in covering issues from the perspective of the artistic community, and so has reached out to find those interested in contributing an article for their blog or even engaging in a video interview for their podcast. In fact, I have just been informed that there will be an item published soon contributed by an art photographer. I have taken a preliminary look at their site and have so far been impressed with the caliber of the discussion/articles and their political involvement. I recommend readers concerned with overzealous censorship take a look at this organization and either a) inform me of any red flags I may have overlooked or b) take this opportunity to get involved.
Climate Warriors: It appears that school children are taking a stand and striking for the cause of real climate action. It began with 15-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden and has since gained some political traction. Read more here.
Good Friends: A reader sent a link to a charming video of a 6-year-old Indian girl named Pooja as she went about her day with her special friend Shanti. Check it out.
The American child poet Hilda Conkling (1910–1986) started composing poetry at the age of four. She did not write down her poems herself, but she recited them to her mother, who wrote them down in the moment or from memory later, and would then read the lines back to her. As Hilda grew up, her mother stopped copying her poems down, so she made fewer and fewer poems, and by the time she was in high school, she had stopped creating them altogether.
Two original collections of her poetry were published as books, first Poems by a Little Girl in 1920, when she was just ten, then Shoes of the Wind in 1922. Both have been digitised and can be found on Internet Archive, and the first one has been transcribed on Fullbooks.com and Project Gutenberg.
In 1924 appeared a third volume, which consisted of a selection of poems from the previous two; it was titled Silverhorn (after one of its poems), and subtitled The Hilda Conkling Book For Other Children. For someone like me who has read her first two collections, the interest of this third book resides essentially in the illustrations by Dorothy Pulis Lathrop (1891–1980), an American artist who had a long career illustrating children’s books, and also writing a few ones herself.
Unfortunately, I found no digitisation of Silverhorn on the web, in particular it is not available on Internet Archive. Moreover, the only good quality large size image of the illustrations which I could find is the frontispiece image, shown above. Therefore I had to digitise further illustrations from my own copy of the book. As it is thick with a hard cover, the folding of pages near the rim caused artifacts: the border of some images were sometimes darkened or geometrically distorted. Fortunately, Pip helped me by enhancing the contrast of the images, giving thus an uniform background.
I present here nine drawings by Dorothy Lathrop, in the order of appearance in the book. The titles given for them are those of the poems that they illustrate.
Several short poems in Shoes of the Wind look like aphorisms and are suited to artistic compositions. Gale Blair at Paper Whimsy hosted several art challenges, providing participants with collage sheets and poems by Hilda Conkling. I found two creations for the March 2009 challenge based on the poem “Moss” and the colour green. First, the beautiful work of Patty Szymkowicz shown on her blog Magpie’s Nest. I have here reduced the size of the two images (see here and here for the original sizes).
Next, I show the contribution of Carol Stocker, from her blog Spirit’s Journey Designs:
These two artists also responded to the challenge of February 2009, based on the poem “The Key to My Mind” and the colour blue. I do not show them here, as I find the one by Carol Stocker less beautiful, while the one by Patty Szymkowicz shows only the front, and in a small size.
Sugar Lump Studios has composed a “Hilda Conkling Poetry Book” made of collages combining poems with paints, watercolors, ephemera, and images from Paper Whimsy.
Creating collages combining beautiful short poems with paintings, drawings and photographs, seems a fruitful avenue in art. For instance, Graham Ovenden made such compositions with his own poetry and visual art, see for instance “From Waterside Memories” in his blog. I wish that more people would make such visual compositions with poems written by girl poets such as Hilda Conkling, Nathalia Crane or Minou Drouet.
12) Body horror – This is another fairly broad category that covers a lot of these images, and as with several of the categories, there is a good deal of overlap with some of the other categories (for example, the monstrosity, violence and general weirdness categories). At any rate, this category covers physical deformities and mutations, sickness and disease, bruises and wounds, and what I would deem “frankensteined” people and animals—that is, beings who are something other than a full human or a full animal. Sometimes they are animal-human hybrids; other times they are biomechanical monstrosities.
Ana Bagayan (Official Site)
Jackie Skrzynski (Official Site)
Squarespace: Jana Brike
Cornelia Renz (Official Site)
Here there is some overlap with the twins category. Yang Jing’s work often incorporates dolls, which we’ll get to in yet another category.
Ravenel International Art Group: Yang Jing
The following image is perhaps the quintessential example of the thesis of this blog series. The implication in Nicoletta Ceccoli’s Dulcis Agata (Latin for Sweet Agatha) depends partly on how you read this sort of art overall. It also references the next category to be addressed in this post, the presence of food, particularly sweet treats, in these images. Ceccoli often uses cakes and candies in her images to symbolizes childhood, especially girlhood, but there is frequently a sinister undertone to these images, and that is the case here. The title references St. Agatha of Sicily, a girl from a wealthy family who, at age fifteen, refused the sexual advances of a lowborn Roman prefect and was subsequently arrested, tortured and eventually murdered. Among the punishments she supposedly enduring was the cutting off of her breasts.
Here Agatha is presented as a young girl who offers either some sort of dessert drenched in strawberry or cherry sauce, or her own severed breasts. If it is the latter, one can read it in at least two ways. The first is as a feminist allegory in which women are expected to look ever younger for men, and thus a young girl might sever her own breasts to remain child-like in presentation. The second reading is actually not far from the first, and it is that culture desexualizes young girls to keep them pure and holy, by violence if necessary.
Nicoletta Ceccoli (Official Site)
Cristina Vergano (Official Site)
13) The presence of food, especially sweets – Food is sometimes associated with sex, and no food more so than fruit and candy, both of which are sweet. (Refer to my Cherry Ripe! post for some insight into at least one fruit that commonly symbolizes sex or sexual development.) Sweets are also associated with children, which makes the symbolism in these images especially potent. Add in a healthy dose of satire and you have the makings of a clever commentary on the conflicted view of the young girl in modern society.
Ceccoli’s girls generally exist in some sort of dark Candyland.
Scott G Brooks Studios (Official Site)
Rene Lynch (Official Site)
Mmm, tasty black soup.
Artnet: Rieko Sakurai
James Jean (Official Site)
14) Masks, especially animal masks – Masks are another recurring emblem in this sort of art. Much can be said about masks in art just in general, but with respect to kids, one immediately thinks of Halloween, which is associated with devils and darkness too, and that of course intersects with one of the persistent themes in these images: horror of one sort or another. If we think in terms of sublimating childhood sexuality, these images are not too dissimilar from the human-animal hybrid pieces, only the artists are perhaps more aware of the sublimation and are acknowledging it. Thus, the masks are in essence a reflection of both the artist’s neuroses with regard to children and a sly acknowledgment that there really are human children behind the false faces being offered to the viewer.
Caleb Weintraub (Official Site)
Here Red Riding Hood becomes the wolf. Yet another clever commentary on the nature of girlhood and how it is perceived.
Here is an illustration by Patricia Gutiérrez that I stumbled on accidentally while researching another artist entirely. It’s for the poetry book Árbol de Diana (Diana’s Tree or Tree of Diana) by Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik. I can find nothing on the illustrator Patricia Gutiérrez specifically. I thought at first it may be the same artist as Patricia Schnall Gutierrez, but I don’t think it is. Their styles are completely different, and Schnall Gutierrez doesn’t seem to sign her work. There is, however, a wealth of information about Alejandra Pizarnik. I won’t go into the details here but her life was quite tragic, culminating in her eventual suicide at age 36, but not before she published several books of well-regarded poetry which focused on the recurring themes of her life: childhood, loneliness, physical and mental suffering, and death. She also had published a prose essay called “La condesa sangrienta” (“The Bloody Countess”) about Countess Bathory, possibly the most prolific female serial killer in history.
Árbol de Diana was Pizarnik’s fourth book of poetry and her most well-known, partly due to its prologue by another, more highly esteemed Hispanic poet, Octavio Paz, who had befriended Pizarnik during her years in Paris, France. Most of the poems are short and almost elemental in their makeup, but not without dazzling turns of phrase. One poem (in the Yvette Siegert translation) reads:
She leaps, shirt on fire,
from star to star,
from shadow to shadow.
She dies of a distant death
this lover of the wind.
I cannot exactly discern the meaning of the drawing in relation to the poetry. The closest I could come was from this four-line poem:
The little traveler
died explaining her death
wise nostalgic animals
visited her hot body
Could this be our late little traveler, escaping the mortal cage of her body and flying up to heaven with the help of some of those wise nostalgic animals? I think so. I love that she is not entirely nude. She is wearing her coat, her socks and one shoe. Often partial nudity is fetishistic, but here is a case where it isn’t. This, to me, is a metaphor that our young traveler has not entirely relinquished the trappings of her life. She is still attached to the world that she’s left behind and thus not quite a soul washed clean. Perhaps she will get there eventually, but not yet.
Incidentally, you can read the entire book of poems (as translated by Joseph Mulligan and Patricia Rossi) here. It’s not long. You can finish all of it in a few minutes.
I am not usually one for expressing holiday sentiments but this year, Christian was thoughtful enough to send me this on-topic card. The illustration is by Peggy Nille and distributed by Zazous Editions. Thank you and Joyeux Noël, Christian. And best wishes for the New Year to all our readers. -Ron
Unfortunately, silver foil does not render well with a scanner. Still, a lovely scene, no?
In the third part of our Sublimated Sexuality in Modern Surrealist Girl Art series (Parts 1 and 2 are here and here, respectively), we’re taking a look at three more identifying characteristics of this kind of art. We’ll number them nine through eleven. Let’s get right to it.
9) The presence of creepy, exotic or overly cute animals – This element stands in contrast to more straightforward images of kids and animals together, which tend mainly to feature commonly domesticated beasts like horses and dogs. Frequently these animals become metaphors for or pointers to, if not direct participants in, youthful sexuality. There are a number of ways we can read this, and not all of these images are based on the same motivation, but I think it’s safe to say that the main idea here is tying child sexuality to something disgusting and inhuman. The important takeaway, however, is that such artworks do not ultimately deny the existence of child sexuality; they simply seek to oppose it by associating it with the vulgar and off-putting parts of nature, the critters that horrify and disgust us.
Notice that the walking stick is dangling from the girl’s unusually red and fleshy lips. Subtle, no?
Ana Bagayan (Official Site)
Like moths to a flame . . .
Squarespace: Jana Brike
Take note of the serpent in the background here, very much reminiscent of a certain devious tempter in a certain garden. If the crocodile devours her vine-like tears, do they then become crocodile tears? Don’t feel sorry for this little fairy. She’s deceiving you.
Hsiao Ron Cheng (Official Site)
Nothing at all Freudian about this image, right?
Nicoletta Ceccoli (Official Site)
Fish and other slimy sea creatures appear often in these artworks. I propose they are both a sign of corrupted (and corrupting) femininity and a symbol of the subconscious mind, which generally manifests in this work as murky water. But we’ll get to that in time.
KuKula (Official Site)
Melissa Haslam (Official Site)
Even when the fluffier, cuter animals (domesticated or otherwise) do appear, often they still become unwitting tools in the child’s sexual awakening, thus undermining the myth of perfect childhood innocence. This would be a more mature approach than the disgust-by-association method of the images above, if not for the fact that all too often the artists tend to play these as humor or satire.
Rats are another animal usually associated with disease and corruption.
Audrey Kawasaki (Official Site)
Lola Gil (Official Site)
Gilles Vranckx is mostly known for serious images of women in erotic poses. This little girl and her rabbit companion have a noticeably different effect than his usual work.
Cats have a longtime association with feminine sexuality, but here that association becomes satirical.
Mike Cockrill (Official Site)
KRK Ryden (Official Site)
10) General sense of unease and nonreality – This one perhaps should’ve been number one, as it really is applicable to almost all of these works, but I’m providing them in no particular order. One thing I’ve noticed about many of these pieces is that they often juxtapose cuteness or beauty against the more somber or horrific elements, which creates a sense of unease, or cognitive dissonance, which I suspect is entirely the point. When we think about child sexuality, cognitive dissonance can arise in the friction between unsolicited (and unwanted) sexual feelings and the feelings of guilt and shame that accompany them, or that we believe should accompany them. This is a difficult dynamic to depict in a straightforward way, hence these various symbolic interpretations. Because this description encompasses pretty much the entirety of this artistic movement, I’m going to keep the examples to a minimum here.
There’s something reminiscent of Donnie Darko in those hanging rabbits, which, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know has a subplot in which a prominent character is revealed near the end to be a pedophile. I’d again like to point out that many of these images feature more than one of the traits I’ve been outlining, such as the animals and the suggestions of violence in some of the following examples.
Flickr: Ramis Kim
Finally, a nice pared-down example of the sort of juxtaposition I’m talking about: this cute cartoonish little girl wouldn’t be out of place in a children’s book if not for the (I assume) menstrual blood gushing down her leg.
Cornelia Renz (Official Site)
11) Confusion of adult and child roles – Another recurring characteristic of this art is the placement of adults in the role of children and the placement of children in the role of adults, especially the latter. These pieces often covertly delineate the fear many modern adults feel of being supplanted (sometimes violently) by younger generations and the dread of the physical and sexual vitality of youth. Children become powerful in these images, while adults are depicted as weak.
Caleb Weintraub (Official Site)
Mark Ryden (Official Site)
Scott G Brooks Studios (Official Site)
I am a regular reader of the French blog Les Éditions du Faune devoted to art and literature. On September 27 it published a good article on an interesting Swedish painter, Ivar Arosenius, who lived only 30 years.
Born on October 8, 1878, he started to study art at age 17; as an independent mind, he attended different schools until he returned to his old teacher who respected his freedom to explore his own fantasy and imagination.
Arosenius mostly painted in watercolours, experimenting with motion, texture and colour. He showed a surreal world which mixed fantasy and reality; in particular he illustrated fairy tales. He also worked for the press by producing satirical caricatures of Swedish society; however he never got a secure place with a journal, as his works, appearing as simple humour, were probably too subversive for a conservative society.
His family paintings show a completely different side of the artist, soft and tender. He often represented his wife Ida Andrea Cecilia (nicknamed Eva) as a fairytale princess or as a Madonna holding their child. He also lovingly painted their only daughter Eva Benedikta Elisabeth (1906–2004), better known by her nickname Lillan.
Arosenius’ most famous work is an illustrated tale that he wrote for Lillan: Kattresan (The Cat Journey), about the adventures of a little girl riding on her cat and discovering the world. A scan of it can be seen on the Swedish Literature Database (see the links on the right for the navigation through its 42 pages). I show a few pages from it; clearly the little girl looks like Lillan.
His wife and friends urged him to publish the book, so he set to improve the drawings, but he could not finish this work, as he died in the night from January the 1st to the 2nd, 1909 from the complications of haemophilia. The book was published posthumously the same year, and it brought fame to Arosenius. Indeed, in May, the Academy of Arts organised at last an exhibition of his work.
I found out that Arosenius made another version of Kattresan for Lillan’s twin cousins, one of whom was named Johanna, or simply Hanna or Hansan. Her grandson published 8 images on his blog from it.
Finally I show two pictures of Lillan in her teens. First a painting of Lillan with her cousin Hanna:
Next an undated photograph of Lillan from around the same time: