LUSTRATED NURSERY RHYMES AND FAIRYTALES have always held a special place in my heart: the intense detail, vibrant colour and realism reminiscent of another time or place, have always transported me to the blissful parts of my imagination. I wasn’t much of a reader until I was older, it was mostly the pictures that spoke loudly to me: the kings and queens, childhood gaiety, images of carts and wagons, ornate furniture and the human characteristics of animals.
But mostly it was the dresses that I loved the most. Always beautifully coloured and trimmed, it was these elements that appealed. I was too young to know about the trials and constriction of corsetry and petti-coated hoops. Life looked as gay and easy as the pictures made it out to be. Fairy tales expounded the notion of princesses ‘wafting’ through castles … until of course, tragedy would inevitably strike!
As in the case of Sleeping Beauty, perfect in every way except for the darned curse that lay on her life. I encountered this story in a Ladybird book from a 1960s edition. I LOVED this book: the beautiful fairies with their smooth flaxen hair, golden headbands and array of pastel Grecian style dresses. The old crone was scary, the rose thorns looked ‘ouchy’ and the guy in tights was a ‘bit weird’ (I was reading this in the demin-clad 1970s), but Sleeping Beauty almost levitating in the yellow dress was as awesome to me as Princess Leia crouching to R2D2 would later come to be.
It’s an image that imprinted on my mind with great affection and gratitude to Eric Winter the illustrator of this edition. Appropriation is a homage to the original, although I hope that my work can be enjoyed without being party to the history of the image.
LIKE SO MANY FAIR LADIES in the tales we have come to know, and despite their many gifts not least their beauty, these girls seemed to live in a gilded cage of sorts, a place where their movements were restricted or bound by events.
I have been inspired by ceramic figurines that convey a classic princess silhouette of fitted bodices, miniscule waists bounding out to gowns full of sway and waving hemming lines, as though each skirt housed a fan beneath the hoops and layers of petticoat and tulle – the pleats and folds become stupendous and awesome. These dresses evoke the rustle of silk and taffeta, skirts filled with air as they billow and sway in momentous hyperbola, against the contradiction of restricted movement and the actuality of a corset and hoop skirt.
If only life in these dresses were so carefree, yet they are bound in porcelain, captured in a moment. The ceramic figurines – hollow inside, their glassine surface and usually pale flesh – captured in a moment of stillness.