Charles Blackman’s 1956 piece ‘Alice in a boat’ made with oil, tempera and enamel paint on wood show cases what at first appears to be a calm and relaxing piece. A woman with yellow hair and a tired expression laying in a crisp white boat that looks like a table cloth, surrounded by the soft rich blue of the ocean. The woman’s eyes are empty and her face a deathly pale her features drawn, also in the boat is a luminescent white rabbit with transparent shading, its back to viewers. Next to the woman Is a cup perched on an angle at the edge of the boat, an old brown bottle that looks to be holding a potion, a colourful vase of flowers that that has been painted in vigorous brush strokes that jump out the vase at every angle in resemblance to fireworks and a shaded black kettle that is self-poring. Blackman uses horizontal brush strokes that matches the grainy surface of the wood, his brushstrokes are fast and efficient causing a stormy background that blends into the clam deep waters giving the effect that somethings coming while the waters appears still and unmoving – the calm before the storm – only reflecting the woman and the paper thing boat that has no engine in a blur that once turned upside down gives the illusion that the woman is pregnant, her swollen belly protruding from the boat while laying down.
This piece is from series of Alice in wonderland paintings Blackman created dedicated to his wife who was visually impaired, Blackman had the talking book of Alice in wonderland he obtained from the library for the blind on record that his wife loved to listen too, in not seeing any illustrations he found inspiration in his own imagination. Blackman represents Alice as his blind wife Barbra with a blank expression that matched her deaerating blindness, the brown bottle is interpreted as the potion that shrank Alice to help her down the rabbit hole with the rabbit, teapot and the crisp white of the boat that looks to be a table cloth all from a specific tea scene in the novel. The flowers symbolise fertility which when you turn the picture upside down shows a pregnant belly protruding from Alice as she lays down in the engineless boat showing her lack of control over her own Destiney and giving a double meaning to Alice’s deathly sick features; In the top half of the boat she is simply suspended in time and blind to the world while in her reflection we see her with no control over the direction she sails to with her pregnancy. The boat that resembles a table cloth wraps around her keeping her blind and held in place in wonderland while in the real world she has direction and a future that is still unknown. The rich waters are still as Alice is frozen in time but the stormy horrid brushstrokes of the sky Is plagued with indecision and confusion and she is kept watch by and trapped in the boat – and Wonderland – by the white rabbit while her future blends together in the soft deep waters. The top half can also be interpreted as his wife and how she is trapped by her blindness has no control over her Destiny much like Alice.
Blackmans use of symbolism is superb, bringing many layers to piece that at first seems calm and relaxing but on closure inspection contains multiple layers in depth and meaning with Alice, his wife and his own interpretations of the two and how they are both similarly trapped and confined. Blackmans use of blending brings a calmness and beauty to the waters that doesn’t clash with the chaos of the storm that can be seen as the future. His use of proportion is bigger on the case of Alice’s head compared to the vase, cup and bottle that he makes work while his placing of shadows are accurate and make for a 3D jump-out. I enjoy the way the painting can be flipped, it’s a nice surprise that viewers don’t see coming. I like how there is no right or wrong interpretation and at every glance a new story can be found and that once can never tyre of studying the picture. The tone of the picture is excellently kept throughout the picture with the blue, white and yellows evenly placed. I love the attention to detail and grainy shading that has a real authentic effect. I really enjoyed this piece and find it inspiring.