Scott Nash’s working drawings on display.
Emma Lucille McCabe’s tunnel book.
An earthenware sculpture by Cecil Cates.
What better way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland” than encouraging illustrators to jump down the rabbit hole? Using Lewis Carroll’s fantasy as a starting point, more than three dozen illustrators explore ideas and themes from the novel in a head-clearing and electrifying tribute, “Wake Up Alice! Contemporary Illustrators Views on Wonderland.” It’s on view through Dec. 31 in the Lewis Gallery at the Portland Public Library.
Scott Nash, who chairs the illustration department at Maine College of Art, put out a call for art to MECA faculty, students and friends. But it was more like a challenge. He wanted them to stretch.
“I really wanted artists to create work that was outside their comfort zone, and a lot of people did,” said Nash, an illustrator, writer and designer of books, brands and TV programming for kids of all ages. “Because everyone knows the narrative of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ you can really run with it. You can be less literal and more abstract, and that’s exactly what happened.”
There are pen-and-ink drawings, earthenware sculpture, colorful paintings and prints and large-scale scene sets. Some are literal, drawing out a specific scene from the book, but many are wildly imaginative and laced with humor and hidden meanings.
They draw the viewer in, much like the novel, and encourage free-reign exploration.
In addition to marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of the book, “Wake up Alice” also celebrates the 10th anniversary of the illustration department at MECA. Nash reached out to the wide MECA community: Current students, whom he has engaged on the theme for more than a year; colleagues who teach at the school; and former MECA teachers who have moved on. In all, more than 35 artists participated, including a who’s-who of contemporary illustration: Nash. Daniel Minter, Kevin Hawkes, Jamie Hogan and many others.
MECA student Emma Lucille McCabe made an accordion-style tunnel book, inspired by a garden scene in the novel. Cecil Cates made an earthenware sculpture of a raven balancing on a teapot. For them, the challenge was working within the context of the traditional illustration to advance a story, while creating work that stands alone outside the story.
This is the fourth exhibition dedicated to illustration that Nash has coordinated with the library. Previously, he curated the Edward Gorey show, and arranged for traveling exhibitions of the Maurice Sendak and “The Pulps.” This one is the most ambitious, because all the work was created specifically for this exhibition.
Nash enjoys mounting exhibitions in the library. He likes the aesthetics of the space itself, and also appreciates the democratic nature of the library. A lot of people see the shows, and the library is an appropriate setting for exhibitions about books.
“We’re illustrators. We like being in libraries,” he said.
This the fourth year the library has shown art regularly in the Lewis Gallery, library director Sarah Campbell said. Some of the exhibitions are word-related, such as “Wake up Alice!” Others are visually inspired. But all advance the library’s objective of engaging people and telling stories, she said.
WHEN: Through Dec. 31
WHERE: Lewis Gallery, Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square