Text by Stephanie Bell
Contemporary painter, Alison Erika Forde’s exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery entitled; The Tallest of Tales, immediately lends itself to the fairytale genre. Her ‘tall tales,’ do not disappoint, showcasing a dozen new works created with the weirdly wonderful depths of fantasy in mind.
Collectively, the exhibition reads like a selection of short fairytales, but there is something darker underneath, reminiscent of Angela Carter’s sadomasochist stories. The figures in her work wouldn’t look out of place in Eastern European folklore, as they hold a naive illustrative quality, capturing the notion of Kitsch. Whereas Jeff Koons uses Kitsch on a grander, decorative scale, there lays a deeper, more eerie parody between fantasy and reality in Forde’s work. Although instantly child like, there is a haunting resonance which sinks deeper than a mere child’s cartoon.
The wooden hut structure, the focal point of the exhibition, is arguably the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel. Peering through the multi coloured ribbon door, the hut is softly caked in pink light, casting shadows on an old doll and little else. To a child this may appear innocently enchanting, but as an adult it appears instantly disturbing. An awareness of the corruption tales such as these hold, both in folklore and in reality, evokes an increasing sense of unease.
Yet the disturbance isn’t instant. Encased in pastel shades and primary colours, Forde’s bold use of paint aids in sugar coating the underlying content. We view each piece through rose tinted glasses before realising all isn’t as it seems. Her utilisation of bric-a-brac and found materials demonstrates a certain urgency, as if telling her tales was a compulsion; grabbing the nearest object on which to direct her narrative.
The Lady In The Lake holds a particularly personal attachment, acting as a revival of child like projections. Initially presented as a familiar landscape, the imagination of a child is then imprinted onto the found painting, with cartoon girls bathing, naughty boys hiding in the trees, giant fish in the water and circling birds hovering above. The piece injects the imagination, answering childhood wonderings of ‘what’s hiding in the woods?’ with the answer amplified, in a way which is both repelling and alluring.
As there is a duality between sweet and sour, it is therefore necessary that we take the sugar with a pinch of salt. A sense of humour is vital when experiencing Forde’s work, albeit a dark one. The exhibition is strong in substance and in execution, but remember if you must go into the woods today, be sure to leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind you…
The Tallest of Tales is on display at Manchester Art Gallery until 10 November 2013
Image by Simon Pantling