One hazy summer’s day, a child decides to follow a rabbit down his burrow. A century later, an artist on the precipice of fatherhood would take the same tumble, ending up with Alice in a world called Wonderland. The kinship shared between Charles Blackman and Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is among the richest bonds in Australian art. In ‘Mad About Alice!’, we revisit this relationship - this time accompanied by Charles’s eldest son, Auguste.
“Who in the world am I?” asks Alice, adrift in a sea of her own tears. For both Alice and Auguste’s mother Barbara, the world was fast submerging into pure bewilderment. While Alice shrunk and grew, Barbara’s stomach expanded and her eyesight faded. Charles recognised this and for the duration of her pregnancy, carried Barbara into his paintings of Wonderland. When Auguste was born, he became the Dormouse - wistfully watching his parents whirl through life.
In ‘Mad About Alice’ these perspectives play out. In Charles’s work, a cacophony of furniture, cutlery and flowers spill onto topsy-turvy dinner parties. In Auguste’s work, Alice and the Rabbit meet as mother and father. Sometimes they are joined by the Dormouse, peeking beneath a teacup, while other times they embrace alone, merging into one.
But Wonderland is no utopia. For all its cakes, cats and tea parties, this place can turn you mad. Growing up in the throngs of an artist’s life, Auguste found it hard to embrace reality. It was only through his own art, that he finally found his bearings. For Alice, it is the words of a grinning cat that help. She asks “have I gone mad?” and he calls back, “I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”
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