Dreaming Alice: Maggie Taylor through the Looking-Glass celebrates internationally acclaimed artist Maggie Taylor and her recent body of work, an illustration of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. On view at the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, Taylor’s sixty-four dazzling new prints – the exact number of squares on a chessboard – delight with their technical brilliance, invention and jewel-toned beauty. They evoke the pastoral twilight paintings of Maxfield Parrish, neo-Victorian steampunk, and the macabre whimsy of filmmakers Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam. Taylor’s illustrations are driven by Carroll’s imaginative characters, but equally by Taylor’s own vision and digital mastery of montage. Her technique is uniquely compatible with the Victorian author’s morphing characters and atmospheric settings, both real and surreal.
Taylor follows in the footsteps of renowned 19th- and 20th-century Alice illustrators John Tenniel, Arthur Rackham, Margaret Tarrant and Barry Moser, to name a few. Each brought their unique style – and traces of their eras – to Alice’s strange adventures. Examples of their illustrations can be seen on the touch table located within the exhibition. However, none – until Taylor – gave such luxuriant attention to the details of the Looking-Glass world through a multi-layered, exacting depiction of the tale’s bizarre encounters or nature-run-amok settings.
Taylor’s inventiveness is all the more compelling since she incorporates portraits of young girls scanned from 19th-century photographs (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and albumen prints) made in Carroll’s own time. These 19th-century visages – combined with 18th-century etchings and 21st-century photographs (Taylor’s own), are Photoshop-fused into masterpieces that reward the careful viewer, and seduce the casual one. Taylor’s Looking-Glass complements Carroll’s love of illusion and parallel worlds, as she transports actual Victorians from one hundred and fifty years ago into the present. Several of the objects and images used in the making of these exquisite prints can be seen in the exhibition.
In the early 1990s, Taylor was uniquely poised on the frontier of the digital revolution. She had already adopted a photographic assemblage style, and had a mind for the logic of computers and their liberating possibilities. Taylor calls herself an imagemaker, not a photographer. Her prints incorporate photographic elements, but also scanned illustrations, sculpture and artifacts that she weaves into compositions pinned against timeless backgrounds. Taylor experimented with the first versions of Photoshop. Her early investigations into the possibilities of the program with Adobe Creative Director Russell Brown helped usher the history of photography into a new era. Her multi-layered fantasies – sometimes more than two hundred layers in a single image – produce a complexity of surfaces, objects and worlds. She is among the earliest, most successful practitioners of the digitally manipulated photographic image, and continues to thrill and inspire successive generations of image-makers in the art of photo-based fine art prints.
Lewis Carroll (born Charles Dodgson) wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) for an actual little girl named Alice Liddell. Maggie Taylor’s interpretation of the latter tale is the focus of the exhibition.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is often interpreted as Alice’s loss of innocence as she begins the process of growing up. Through the Looking-Glass is the continuation of Alice’s journey from adolescence to young womanhood. Obstacles and advances in her transformation are dramatized in this fantastical story whereby Alice encounters strange events, people and animals who prod, cajole and harass her. The setting is a vast countryside landscape made of sixty-four chessboard squares through which Alice bravely makes her way, unsure if she is dreaming or in the real world.
In this giant game of chess – a metaphor for life – Alice starts out as a pawn (a child). Inevitably, she must travel to the far end of the chessboard-countryside where she will become, hopefully, a queen (a woman). She is guided and bullied by the Red Queen and White King, the White Knight, Humpty Dumpty, the Jabberwock and a host of other irritable and odd creatures.