Joseph Cornell, the celebrated American exponent of assemblage, seems to have a particular appeal for writers. He is the subject of a collection of essays, Dime-Store Alchemy by the poet Charles Simic, and the inspiration for an anthology of fiction and poetry, A Convergence of Birds, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer. Here, though, the traffic moves the other way in a collage, Sorrows of Young Werther (above), inspired by Goethe’s epistolary novel. Made late in Cornell’s career, when his health was poor and he was grieving for his brother and mother, this is melancholy distilled.
At the end of the 1960s, disillusioned with life in London, Peter Blake and his wife, Jann Haworth, moved to Wellow, a village near Bath, England. As a result, the direction of his work began to change, his references to popular culture now replaced with stories from English folklore and Shakespeare. A set of watercolours made to illustrate Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass also date from this period: as delicate and jewel-bright as the fairy-tale illustrations of Arthur Rackham, but with a wit and modernity that is all their own.
Somehow, Blake has managed to shake off the influence of John Tenniel, by far the most famous illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories (Tenniel made 90 drawings for the books) — though he’s not the only visual artist to have attempted this feat. Down the years, Alice has inspired artists from René Magritte to Yayoi Kusama, Salvador Dalí to David Shrigley: in a 1988 photograph by Shrigley, the handwritten label on what looks very much like a bottle of urine says ‘DRINK ME’.
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