Thursday, December 4, 2014

New Exhibit: “Gazing Through the Looking Glass: Artists Envision Wonderland”

Charles M. Ware

   The Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and Alice herself are just a few of the vivid characters created by author Lewis Carroll in his Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. These figures, loved by generations of readers, have become part of our common culture -- as recognizable as Santa Claus or Little Red Riding Hood. Alice and her companions have become central to a great many other artistic works -- films, music,
and artwork among them.

   "Gazing Through the Looking Glass: Artists Envision Wonderland" is a new exhibit at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum that explores how some artists have picked up Lewis' characters and made them part of contemporary art. The exhibit features work by artists Charles Ware, Barry Moser, and others, and runs in conjunction with Vallejo's Mad Hatter's Holiday Festival in December. The exhibit also features Alice-themed artworks created by students at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School.

Barry Moser
   Barry Moser is an award winning illustrator, printer, painter, printmaker, designer, author, essayist, and teacher. Mr. Moser's edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland won the National Book Award for design and illustration in 1983, and prompted the poet John Ashbery writing in Newsweek to call Moser's work "never less than dazzling." He frequently lectures and acts as visiting artist and artist in residence at universities and institutions across the country. He is on the faculty of the Illustration Department at the Rhode Island School of Design, was the 1995 Whitney J. Oates Fellow in Humanities at Princeton University, was artist and writer in residence in the Children's Literature department at Vassar College in 1998, and is currently on the faculty of Smith College, where he is Professor in Residence in the Department of Art and serves as Printer to the College.

   Charles M. Ware (1921-2005) was an outsider artist and a member of a San Francisco Visionary School of Art that flourished in the 1960s and 70s. Ware's obsessions, dreams, and visions led him to develop a highly personal mythological and spiritual realm populated  by an intriguing cast of characters -- some of Ware's own creation and some borrowed from other sources.

   Ware had a particular fascination with Lewis Carroll's Alice, the inspiration for some of his best work. The artist was self-taught in many aspects, including printmaking, in which he developed great skill. Ware's artwork reveals a remarkable attention to detail and a delight in experimentation with materials and media. He first attracted attention as a street artist in San Francisco's North Beach, where he was part of the bohemian subculture that saw the end of the Beat generation and the beginning of the Hippies and the Summer of Love. Visionary art fit with the mood of the times, and by the 1970s Ware's art was being shown in Union Square galleries. Ware's art, like that of other Visionaries, later fell from fashion -- but is now enjoying renewed interest.

   Both artists' Alice-themed artworks allow us to consider how Lewis Carroll's stories continue to be a source of inspiration. "Gazing Through the Looking Glass: Artists Envision Wonderland" runs through January 3, 2015.

Discover More on December 13th: "Charles M. Ware's Visions of Wonderland"

   An afternoon of presentations and discussions on Alice's continuing impact on the visual arts -- with a particular emphasis on the artwork of San Francisco Visionary artist Charles M. Ware -- will be held at the Museum on Saturday, December 13 at 1:30 p.m.

   The program will open with a presentation by Mark Burstein, president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. Burstein will discuss the ongoing fascination for Alice held by artists who adopt and utilize Lewis Carroll's creations in order to achieve their own artistic goals.

Charles M. Ware
   Next, we will turn to a focused discussion of Charles M. Ware, whose art is a prominent part of "Gazing Through the Looking Glass." Ware occasionally commeneted that he thought he might be the reincarnated spirit of John Tenniel (1820-1914), the English illustrator who established the well-known depictions of Carroll's characters.

   Ware's life, artworks and writings will be presented by Alan Selsor, an art consultant and curator who has been researchig Ware with the help of the artists' family and friends. He will be joined by Art Hazelwood, a noted Bay Area printmaker and friend of the artist. Hazelwood will discuss Ware's idiosyncratic and highly inventive printmaking techniques by showing examples of his actual printing plates and wood blocks.

   The afternoon will end with the showing of a 30-minute documentary-in-development being created by John Morita, a photographer, printmaker, and film-maker who first met Ware and his family in 1971. Some of Morita's early photographs of the Wares were the basis of a group on inventive print images, "The Ware Family Series," which was exhibited at SFMOMA in 1979. Morita continued to film and photograph the Wares, and these materials form the basis of the documentary.

(Thanks to Alan Selsor and Barry Moser for contributing to the above post)