I’m in folk and fairy tale mode right now, since I’m working on a Cinderella article for The Australian Ballet. This may somewhat explain why I couldn’t wait to share the work of an artist I came across last night on Brain Pickings. After reading this post on Jillian Tamaki, I emailed her asking for permission to feature her work on my blog, and she said yes. Thank you Jillian!
All her work is interesting, but I’m particularly drawn to her illustrations for Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and Lady Augusta Gregory’s Irish Myths and Legends (which is, alas, out of print, otherwise I would buy it). Goblin Market in particular is an ambivalent, contradictory narrative poem that comprises of many layers. To truly do it justice through illustration, you need an artist who can also create layered meanings. The poem has been read as a children’s story, and at the same time, a cloaked Victorian tale of sexuality and sensuality. It has a distinctly sinister undertone to it that hardens the sweetness of some of its imagery into a Gothic bite. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most complex and beautiful poems of the Victorian era. I love it. And so, looking at Tamaki’s likewise layered and complex responses to the poem fills me with delight.
That’s what I find so fascinating about her illustrations: they invite you to read them like you would read a poem – to unpack the intricate lines of each illustration and to interpret the images. I often feel disappointed by illustrations created for books, as they can flatten out the meaning. But Tamaki’s illustrations do the opposite: they attract further meanings, they enhance and highlight.
Another thing that draws me to her work is the Gothic undertone to her images. ‘Gothic’ has cheesy connotations these days of B-grade horror flicks, and the like. But when the Gothic revival occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was like an act of artistic rebellion. Some of Tamaki’s images remind me of that rebellion – and also, in particular, of a tale that still manages to scare the hell out of me: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Sandman. This Romantic story has that sinister edge to it, mixed with beauty. Its terror is not one of blood and guts and over-the-top violence we’re so used to now, but rather a psychological terror of the uncanny. It’s a weirdly beautiful story. And that’s how I would describe Tamaki’s work.
If you’d like to see more, check out her website and blog. And thanks once again Jillian for giving me permission to show your work here.