A series of works from award-winning Canadian artist Stephanie Mackenzie’s ‘Eve meets Alice’ series were on show for the first time in the UK last week. The four vivid pieces of surrealist photographic art were part of the ‘Insight’ exhibition on show for eleven days at The Brick Lane Art Gallery. The ‘Insight’ exhibition contained a collection of art from six different artists, and was run as part of the on-going ‘Art in Mind’ campaign which is organised by the gallery around the very purpose of promoting and providing a platform for some of the world’s most talented emerging artists to what is a growing audience of curious Londoners.
The four pieces are part of a larger group of eight that together provide a sequential narrative in story-book form. In total, it is a vibrant collection of images that juxtapose the stories of the two iconic young female figures to tell a profound, stark and deeply thought-provoking tale. It is a story that illustrates the peril that both become exposed to when tempted into the vast unknown of the world around them, tainting their once naïve and idyllic outlook upon life. ‘Eve meets Alice is about human curiosity and life’s obstacles as well as how today’s society leaves little time for childhood and childlike imagination.’
The bringing together of these two famous but rather disparate characters from our literary past is accompanied by the symbols associated with their stories, such as the apple, snake, and white rabbit, provoking a surreal sense of dislocation in viewing the art-work. It eschews the observer into the piece’s eerie and gripping atmosphere, and also provides a stark depiction of the universal life struggle at the heart of Mackenzie’s artwork, ‘past, present, fiction or nonfiction, our life lessons of curiosity and obstacles remain the same.’ Mackenzie explains how this struggle is partly inspired by her own life experiences, ‘it is a fight in my subconscious of childhood versus growing into my adulthood. Leaving my hometown Toronto with only three suitcases to Paris and no job was a huge risk. I had no choice but to step into the ‘un-known’ territory of a different language, culture and way of life. I had to trust people with no knowing their intent.’
The indulgence into abstract sub-consciousness is something that is heavily inspired by the likes of both Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, Mackenzie explains ‘they influenced me to step into my imagination and not be afraid to use brash colour while still maintaining harmony.’ Indeed the use of acrylic and bold colour plays an important role in the visual experience of Mackenzie’s work, they give the abstract surrealism of her images a sharp and vibrant edge that is immediately impactful, submerging the observer into the deep subconscious experience that all of her works are constructed around. The images are all imprinted upon the background of an old French, stained novel, and the contrast of bright and dark has a profound influence upon the eye, emphasising the discomfort of the character’s rise and fall, and the rupture of a seemingly serene and idyllic childhood, whereby the playfulness of Alice and the white rabbit steadily clashes with the sobre seriousness of Eve, the apple and snake.
Mackenzie uses a multi-disciplined technique that involves both photographic development and acrylic embellishment to help build the multi-textured and luminous final product. ‘The process of creating each piece is complex. Models, costumes, lighting, set and storyboards are important in the early stages of building the idea. Digital technology is then used to create the final images before printing. After the art is printed and stretched on canvas, I hand-embellish each piece with acrylic paint and mix every colour by only using Red, Green and Blue.’
The final piece, ‘Off with her HEAD’ seems to leave an uneasy final impression upon its audience. ‘It is a comical exaggeration that you must grow into having thick skin in order to survive.’ These touches of slightly twisted humour add to the intriguing and rather ambiguous nature of the work.
Mackenzie will return to London in September for her first ever solo show where all eight pieces of the ‘Eve meets Alice’ series will be complete and available for viewing alongside her other new pop-art series of photographic art, ‘Pocket Girl’. Speaking about her plans to return to the capital she said that the ‘energy of the art scene in London is fantastic.’
Find out more about Stephanie Mackenzie’s work here.