Combining literary and artistic interests, Natalie Frank’s new series of artwork gives modern insight into The Brothers Grimms’ tales. The show is traveling from The Drawing Center in New York where Frank is now based.
Since Frank is an Austin native, the Blanton Museum of Art was particularly interested in displaying this exhibition. The bright colors and audacious content fits right in with Austin’s penchant for boldness.
From Oral Tales to Paper to Paint
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm adapted famous folk tales for print between 1812 and 1857. Adults were the original intended audience, but eventually themes of sexuality and violence were removed or lessened in order to be more appropriate for children. Frank’s work considers the original versions of the stories where women were often rendered powerless over their lives. She pulls scenes that address gender and sexuality and looks at them through a feminist scope to examine the characters’ complexities.
This collection of over 30 22” x 30” pieces all use the medium of gouache and pastel. As Blanton’s Director of PR and Marketing, Kathleen Stimpert, explains, “Natalie’s decision to translate the Grimm stories into drawings is fitting, given the tradition of illustration in these narratives: although the first editions were not illustrated, a third Grimm brother illustrated subsequent editions as part of a larger sanitization of the tales that attempted to increase their broad popularity and appeal to children.”
Surprisingly, this exhibit marks Frank’s first venture into strictly using gouache and chalk pastel. Gouache is a type of watercolor where the particles are larger and there is much more pigment (including a white chalk pigment). This makes the medium opaque, smooth and reflective. It can be tricky to work with as it applies in a different color than it dries.
Cabbages, Musicians and Handless Maidens
In this series, easily recognizable stories include Rapunzel, Snow White and Cinderella, but many pieces are drawn from obscure tales. Frank’s work can speak for itself, but having insight into the represented stories can enhance the audience’s experience. The Blanton will have explanatory texts available so the more obscure stories don’t have to remain a mystery, but here are a few insights before you go.
Frank’s pieces The Lettuce Donkey I-III come from the tale called “Donkey Cabbages.” The story concerns a hunter who is tricked by an old witch and her daughter, who he in turn fools into eating cabbage that morphs them into donkeys. Eventually, he turns the daughter back into a human and marries her. Frank extracts compelling imagery from the tale and produces a claustrophobic feeling by drawing a thick frame around the pieces. Perhaps she is recalling the trapped feeling of the characters as they manipulate one another.
“The Girl Without Hands” or “The Handless Maiden” is a story about a young woman whose hands are chopped off by her father, due to a request from the devil. Eventually she marries a king and receives silver hands before she must go into hiding once again. In the end, God gives her back her hands. Frank created four works concerning this story, each highlighting an awkwardness or disconnection with the main character’s hands.
The Bremen Town Musicians pieces reflect the story of an anthropomorphized donkey, dog, cat and rooster who flee when mistreated by their masters. They form a new life for themselves by sharing a house after scaring away robbers by standing on top of one another. Many of the Grimms’ fairy tales deal with themes of mistreatment and deception.
Visit the Blanton This Summer
Natalie Frank’s show begins on July 11th and ends on November 15, 2015. The Blanton will keep seven pieces for their collection.
Frank will speak about her work on July 11th at 3 PM. Afterwards, the Museum Shop will host a book signing from 4:10-4:45 PM for the release of Frank’s first book.
Please note that parents may find Frank’s work inappropriate for their children, since she is meeting the dark elements of these stories head on.
The museum is located at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Congress Avenue and is open Tuesday though Friday from 10-5, Saturday from 11-5 and Sunday from 1-5. Thursdays are free admission days and every third Thursday the museum is open until 9 PM. More information can be found on their website.
@MadameKLM wants to know:
Which fairy tale is your favorite?
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