Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shaun Tan's Trouble Illustrating Fairy Tales (& the Resulting, Wonderful Sculptures)

German edition with The Frog King sculpture on the cover
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this special German edition of Philip Pullman's recent retelling of Grimm's tales that people are so excited about. Although different countries have received different covers, the German edition is the only one that's "illustrated" (ie has images beyond the front cover).

Heidi, over at the SurLaLune Blog, has a great write up on this, along with a best collection of images for the edition anywhere. Rather than repeat everything she has put together I found the artist's difficulty in approaching the fairy tales interesting, as I've never heard of an illustrator saying they didn't feel there was anything they could create to add to the tale, so am concentrating on that.

I did - after lots of hunting - manage to find some additional images, as well as another fairy tale sculpture from an exhibition the artist's work was included in this past year. I'm not including what they're from though, mainly because s few of them could be from a couple and I don't want to misrepresent the work, but you're welcome to guess. I do love seeing images of rarely illustrated tales though!

Australian artist, Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing, The Arrival) was approached about doing illustrations but it appears he found it a rather confounding assignment - at least to start. He persisted, however, and rather than producing a set of illustrations, Mr. Tan turned to sculpture for the first time in many years. The results are both whimsical and primal and immediately connect with children (as I found to my surprise).

Here's a little from Shaun Tan about how he ended up working in three dimensions:
I was particularly interested in the scholarly notes at the end of each tale, offering background, critique and even a few suggested improvements from a writer's point of view; I was also interested in Philip's introduction which praises the concise, 'cardboard character' narrative of Grimm's fairty tales and points out they do not necessarily benefit much from illustration. A good problem for a visual artist! And one I'm inclined to agree with: I'd long ago researched fairy tales as a possible illustration project, but soon gave it up as the tales had such an abstracted quality about them, I couldn't think of a suitable 'way in' as an artist who favours representational imagery. While I love such illustrations as those byArthur Rackham, I've always felt they conflict with my own less literal experience a reader. And in many cases, the tales are just too strange or irrational for conventional 'scenes'. 
So I was a little reluctant at first, but soon began to think of ways I could avoid painiting or drawing altogether. As a child, I was actually more obsessed with sculpture than painting and drawing, working with clay, papier mache and soapstone, and was reminded of this when browsing through my collection of books on folk art and particularly Inuit scultpure and Pre-Columbian figurines from Mexico. Many of these small, hand-sized sculptures are strongly narrative and dreamlike, and offered a 'way in' to thinking about Grimm's stories as part of an old creative tradition. The works I ended up creating hopefully convey the spirit of each tale without actually illustrating them, like anonymous artifacts in a museum open to all kinds of interpretation.

You can buy the German edition (only available in German text sorry) HERE and other country-specific Amazon sites. There is an ebook available for download via HERE (you'll need to figure out a way to pay in Euros though).
Red Riding Hood by Shaun Tan (from an exhibition in 2013 - not sure if a version of this is included)

1 comment:

  1. How exciting to see these images! I love Shaun Tan's illustrations, and this sculptural approach is refreshing!