PORTLAND—Stumble down to the ground floor of the Portland Public Library and you’re sure to feel how Alice did after sipping the “Drink Me” sizzurp.
A contemporary art exhibition titled “Wake Up Alice!” began November 6 at the library, featuring the surreal, fantastical and cheeky works of 35 Maine artists depicting some element of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The exhibit celebrates the 150th anniversary of the book’s publication as well as the 10th anniversary of the Illustration Program at Maine College of Art (MECA).
“I find that people are either in love with Alice In Wonderland or slightly freaked out by it,” said MECA’s Illustration Program Chair and Assistant Professor Scott Nash. “And it’s funny, I read the book when I was a kid in various forms, but there are certain of our artists that were sort of put off by the book and how unkind the characters were to one another. But that’s the nature of nonsense, moving from one curious situation to another. We, like Alice, travel through Wonderland, much in the way we observe things in dreams—dispassionately.”
Headed up by Nash, the exhibit took two years to prepare and curate. “All of the artists represented in the show have had some connection to our department, either as visiting faculty, current faculty, alumni and even current students,” Nash said, “I wanted to run the full gamut—from seasoned illustrators to new talent. As a result, we’ve gotten some remarkable pieces and some of the student illustrations are our most popular works.”
The diversity of the show shows the range of artistic expression inspired by this story. One of the focal points of the exhibit is a section of wall with what seems like manic Sharpie scribbles. Artist Declan McCarthy put the book on tape and listened to it out loud as he scrawled the entire plot of the book in cartoon form on the wall. “He did this over the course of a few days while we were hanging the show,” said Nash. “He wrote out the whole story in real time. It was incredible to watch him as he worked.”
Another artist who brought out the visceral energy of The Mad Hatter, Alice falling down the rabbit hole and The Cheshire Cat was Lori Stebbins, a recent graduate of MECA. Her dream-within-a-cartoon depiction of these iconic characters washed in dark greens and blues, is another popular attraction to the exhibition.
“I’ll get different reactions on what people are focusing on in the show and this is one that’s getting noticed,” Nash said. “I adore Lori’s ‘Alice’ figure and and the dimensions of the illustration all akimbo.”
Nash himself, has a few pieces in the show. A diminutive Alice stands in a wash of white looking up after realizing where she is and says something people won’t expect. “As I was getting work in for the show, I took the opportunity to do something a little understated, taking advantage of white space and the idea of Alice shrinking,” Nash said. That’s what I would have said, I’m afraid.”
So far, 4,000 people have come through to view the exhibit, which is on par with MECA’s Illustration Department’s previous shows at the Portland Public Library on Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak and The Art of The Pulps. Nash is proud of his Illustration Department. "There is such a wealth of illustrators in Maine. Coming from Boston 20 years ago, I'm just astounded at all of the talent here. It's the primary reason we're able to develop shows like this."
The show will hang until December 31 at the Portland Public Library. For more information visit: Wake Up Alice
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