A Small Production of Alice in Wonderland

EllenHeck_AliceInWonderlandPanels

The narrow, vertical portraits of A Small Production of Alice in Wonderland are carefully rendered costume studies from a children’s production of the famous story. The girls are both in and out of character – in costume, but not staged in scenes from the play itself. The pieces are tightly focused on the subjects, which each stand alone in a butter yellow column, sometimes arranged in coordinating diptychs. The narrative theme of the series is that of identity and relationships: each girl’s position with regard to her own role, her character’s relationship to others in the story, as well as the dynamics of the girls themselves outside of the framework of the performance. These bundled connections are compressed into each portrait, layering narrative that is subtly revealed through the position of a hand, the direction of the eyes, the tilt of a crown.

 

This series has come after and as a direct result of ideas that developed in my Forty Fridas series.  A portfolio of forty combination woodcut and drypoint portraits of different women and girls dressed up as Frida Kahlo, the series focused on themes of identity and individuality. The faces shared penetrating eye contact with the viewer, silently communicating forty strongly unique self-awarenesses. The continuity of costume did not homogenize, but rather served to highlight differences between individuals, allowing singular characteristics to become even more apparent, particularly when the Fridas are displayed in large groups.

The Small Production prints, on the other hand, while still exploring the theme of identity in costume, show the children in a variety of different roles, and the prints are often arranged as diptychs, comparing one character with another. Each child’s relationship with her own character as well as her reaction to others in the cast adds layers of complexity and narrative to the series as a whole. Just as the common understanding of the legend of Frida Kahlo and her status as a cultural icon adds background to the diversity of direct gazes in the Forty Fridas series, so too does the common understanding of the Alice in Wonderland story inform our response to portraits of young girls assuming those roles and trying to occupy those parts.

The depiction of the full body is a choice that has added additional layers of information. While much of the narrative interpretation to be found in the Fridas series is focused in the eyes, the body language of the young actors in the Small Production prints becomes more important. They inhabit their characters, respond to other characters, and also reveal their own identities through a variety of postures and a subtle almost-vintage set of limited-palette costumes that fall somewhere between homemade and high fashion.

A Small Production of Alice in Wonderland continues my interest in exploring the complexities of identity – especially youthful self-awareness and identity creation – through the lens of subtly narrative portraiture. Using the multiple plate compositions and limited palettes native to printmedia, I continue my own tradition of narrative portraiture that focuses on the many layers of identity and the early stages of its creation.