One of the principle elements in classic children storytelling, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is to throw order into chaos. Childhood is not only a biological state in a person’s life, it is an intellectual rites of passage. A child is expected to live by the conditioning of family and society. They live by rules placed around them for their protection and growth. It is law that a child cultivates an identity. In this regard a child represents order, despite how chaotic their behavior and logic is in reality. But that is why displacing them out of the laws of their governing society into a fantasy world is every child’s dream. Wonderland is a place where one can project their whims and express their self without fear of crossing the borders of morals and ethics. J.M. Barrie’s Neverland is the projection of the “innocence” or the subconscious state that children still have one foot in before they fully step into the conscious adult world.
In stories like Wonderland and Oz the children do not act whimsically, they act quite orderly. This position allows for the child to reverse roles, where the adults in the fantasy world are the children and the child is the dominating authority of reason. The effect is the adult characters and institutions come off juvenile and irrational. We are left to identify with the one reasonable character in the story who happens to be a child. We are forced to see the world through the eyes of a child.
ACCIDENTAL NIGHTMARE FUEL
Cartoons, especially circa 1930s, painted a world for children that sometimes masked the reality of true American culture. While Dick and Jane were watching rubber hose limb cartoon characters bouncing and bending, black Americans were getting lynched by white mobs. Of course, that statement isn’t entirely true. In the 30s some cartoons did not wear a mask and portrayed black Americans through gross stereotypes such as mammy, pickaninny, and sambo to name a few. Children were conditioned through cartoons to learn the cultural norms of their community, namely to think of black people as second-class citizens. We still see similar versions of this in cinema and television today through the portrayal of Latinos, especially the Latinized version of mammy, the maternal and submissive house servant.
You might have not all had this experience but many people in America experience a sort of waking up when they look back at their childhood and realize how many things the adult world used to condition their young mind, from sugar laced cereal to toys that came with their fast food meals. There is a word for how a commercial economy treats children- exploitation. The purpose of this exploitation is to condition viable consumers to perpetuate the commercial industry that supports this nation’s economy. This is the law that conditions us in America and this is the order that children are raised to imbibe.
Lowbrow and Pop Surrealist artists create punk wonderlands in which they take the consumer and displace them into an absurd world of surreal consumerism. The audience identifies with the products of consumerism, but the roles have been reversed. These products of pop culture no longer serve our hungers, but serve as transcendent bridges that help us see the absurdity and true intention behind commercial and pop culture.
Camile Rose Garcia’s paintings carry this Lowbrow spirit with images reminiscent of Fleischer cartoons, classic fairy tale characters such as wolves and witches, poison apples, and haunting forests that are familiar visual motifs to American audiences. In Garcia’s Phantasmacabre a recurrent motif is the female in the venomous throes of an anthropomorphic male, often in the figure of a snake or a wolf. But unlike Little Red Riding Hood, the women in the paintings are not helpless creatures, but rather forces that challenge the male figures for control, in some cases literally by having a grip around them. The classic fairy tale places the feminine out of the hands of one oppressive male figure into the hands of another controlling male figure, albeit the latter is usually a knight in shiny armor. The feminine in Phantasmacabre stand alone against the threat of such social toxins and dependency.
I’M MELTING! I’M MELTING! OH, WHAT A WORLD!
In Lowbrow and Pop Surrealist art, such as in the works of Camille Rose Garcia, there is a similar principle of throwing order into chaos that is executed on the canvas. In Garcia’s work specifically the fantasy world we enter might be what one would imagine Walt Disney seeing on a bad, or really good, acid trip. Many of her works are playful macabre scenes filled with birds of prey, curious insects, anthropomorphic villains, oozing landscapes, and melting skies.
Like an isolation chamber these dramas are without time and horizon. We are unaware of night or day, nor are we aware of a geographical location, we are isolated in one scenario. But we know we are in a complete space, an ecosystem that does not reason with our perception, similar to a fairy tale world. We need to step out of structures, such as time, to allow ourselves to indulge in fantasy.
Even in a fairy tale wonderland there are fixed scenarios that we depend on to anchor our imagination. A subtle aspect of challenging order in Garcia’s Phantasmacabre is by creating the illusion of a moving atmosphere. The melting skies and the pulsations of liquid prevent us from fixing ourselves in the scene. As we take in the present moment we are anticipating the next. And unlike a written tale that tells us what is to come, the paintings allow us to imagine the outcome of the narrative.
A children’s fantasy story as mentioned displaces order into chaos. The familiar cartoon imagery and fairy tale archetypes set in a macabre context creates a fantastic narrative. On a more subtle level Garcia achieves this displacement by more than just vintage pop inclusion, but by dressing the paintings with a contrast between controlled line work and the emulsion of cool and warm colors.
What is the number one phrase you will hear an art patron in a contemporary art gallery or museum exhibition say about a painting, other than, “I could’ve painted that?” The number one least creative phrase, and I’m paraphrasing, I’ve heard and said is, “Ooh, I love the play between the light and the dark colors.”
Color psychology is the study of how colors and their hues affect human behavior and perception, something very useful for those in marketing. In a New York Times article entitled, “Color Has A Powerful Effect On Behavior, Researchers Assert,” Lindsey Gruson wrote about the psychosomatic effects of color on people with disorders. One example concerned troublesome children at San Bernardino County Probation Department in California who were put in 8′ x 4′ cells that were painted bubble gum pink. The result was that often within ten minutes being isolated in these pink chambers the children relaxed and sometimes fell asleep.
In Phantasmacabre the forms are in the fashion of traditional cartoon illustration, in the sense that the definition of the characters are not by means of line work, but by the highlights and shadows of the coloring. Garcia’s color palette in this series is supernatural with the intended effect to stimulate our mind’s eye- to open the eyes of our imagination.
She is not depicting the the visible spectrum of light of our reality. We are asked not to associate familiar forms with the color values of our perceived reality but to surrender to a suspension of disbelief. The purpose of suspension of disbelief can serve for entertainment but it also acts as a means of experiencing sensations free from the anchors of logic and reason. Imagination is an important tool in magical ritual as it not only exercises our mind, it transports us out of “reality”. Yet where it takes us cannot be said to be unreal.
There is a scene in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain when the Thief crosses a room painted with the color scheme of the visible spectrum of light. At the other end of the room is the Alchemist. The Thief crosses the visible spectrum of light to begin the alchemical process of awakening his spiritual vision to envision things out of range of the physical spectrum.
The effect of Garcia’s color palette is enhanced, if not critically dependent on her style of line work in order to have the impression of darkness. Observe the forms of the characters, especially the eyes. The outlines and details of the characters are done by such defined lines that it opposes the washes of color in the backdrop. By placing this precise line work against a melting backdrop Garcia subtly applies this fairy tale principle of setting order within chaos, where the characters and settings are the order and the atmosphere is the chaos. But even the oozing colors are carefully defined, it only has the impression of disorder.
THE VALUE OF DARKNESS
It is theorized that Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was an allegory for American politics and society. Subtle are the references to cartoon Americana and feminism in Phantasmacabre. What is apparent are the violent backdrops, the vibrant colors, the sharp eyes that extend in menacing bows, do not depict the reality that we have accepted as the norm, but are reflections of the hidden nature we fear we cannot control. We create laws and traditions to control and filter the things that come from this dark place in our mind. What could be more frightening than stepping out of the fortress of law and entering into that primeval dark forest of imagination?
We are not children that can be transposed into a fictional story, but through silence and imagination we can enter an internal journey through our own minds. Camille Rose Garcia is inviting our ordered minds into the psychological wonderland of Phantasmacabre, where light and dark, the beauty and the grotesque, pain and pleasure, and reality and imagination melt into each other.
Camille Rose Garcia’s Phantasmacabre, along with her Snow White Illustrations, will be showing at Corey Helford Gallery, Los Angeles until August 20th 2016.