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Down the Rabbit's Hole 

For this year’s invitational, Tinman Artworks says goodbye yellow brick road.

click to enlarge Detail of Kay O'Rourke's 'Mock Turtle'
  • Detail of Kay O'Rourke's 'Mock Turtle'

Things have gotten curiouser and curiouser at the Tinman Gallery these days, beginning with the remodel that has kept the Garland Avenue space closed since late June. And now, rabbits and Cheshire cats are poised to invade the refurbished space, which features custom steel railings, new lights and more exhibition space for artwork. As teacups and playing cards whirl about, a girl named Alice sits, stands and twirls on paintings, drawings and sculpture. Behold, Tinman’s latest thematic art invitational.

As with last year’s OzVitational, this year’s group show at Tinman asks artists to take inspiration from classic children’s literature: Alice in Wonderland. Choices include the 1865 Lewis Carroll classic, the 1950s Disney cartoon or the modern Tim Burton movie, although Wonderland is an oft-used motif, including such variations as a 1903 silent film and a 1983 Japanese anime.

The literature theme reflects owner Sue Bradley’s lifelong interest in books, which has resulted in the expansion of Ruby Slipper, Bradley’s former high-end shoestore, into the newly minted Tinman Too, which offers children “regular storytelling times, dress up and puppet theater,” says Bradley. It will have workshops, seasonal projects and art classes taught by former Spokane Art School staff and local artists.

Some of those instructors are the very same who are featured in the gallery exhibit, including Jo Fyfe, who provided a raku-fired Cheshire cat.

Another sculptural piece is one that will surprise Kay O’Rourke fans who have only seen her paintings. Her mixed-media Mock Turtle uses an old, rusty Electro-Mode casing to house a painting of the Mock Turtle from Chapter 10, “Lobster Quadrille.” A painted wooden cutout of Alice and a swath of curtain enhance the diorama/stage-like feel. Above them is a whimsical assemblage of clock parts, doll legs (Alice’s?) and the rabbit, while below it all the Mad Hatter does somersaults.

While much of the exhibit artwork pulls directly from literature, others explore Alice in Wonderland’s more adult themes. Ric Gendron’s Feed Your Head is a provocative triptych complete with pot leaves and hookah. Is he pro-drug use? Against? Curiouser and curiouser.

Bernadette Vielbig asks a similar question with her Lewis Carroll Understood the Future of Modern Medicine, a refined aesthetic piece using weathered maple, eerily accurate cast plaster face and hands and a bottle of Kentucky bourbon.

“Drink Me” is the instruction stamped into a delicate silver tag dangling from Kurt Madison’s pendant of amber-tinted glass. A matching set of earrings offers cake to eat and another, darker glass vial/pill to eat. Imagine wearing this as you sing Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”

As familiar as Alice in Wonderland is for most of us, some parts are less so, including a chapter deleted from the original book. Tom Quinn’s painting illustrates a brown-haired Alice engaged in conversation with a giant, wig-wearing wasp. Quinn provides a copy of the “lost” chapter, which was axed by Alice illustrator John Tenniel, who felt the subject of wasp in a wig was “beyond the appliances of art.”

That anyone might find a wigged wasp more preposterous than, say, a character who uses flamingoes to play croquet with hedgehogs sounds nonsensical. Which, of course, is the whole point of Alice in Wonderland.

Or is it? “I picked Alice in Wonderland,” says Bradley, “because, like The Wizard of Oz, it is a book ostensibly for children that touches on universal themes that affect people of all ages.”

Attracted to the strong female characters, Bradley also appreciates the “satirical look at cultural and political institutions” and the symbolic battles between children and adults. “This revolt against institutions and blinkered thinking is at the heart of how artists work.” Indeed.

Alice in Wonderland Invitational runs July 30-Aug. 21 at Tinman Artworks, 811 W. Garland. Monday-Saturday 10am – 6 pm. Free to public. Artists reception Friday, July 30, 5-9 pm.  Visit tinmanartworks.com or call 325-1500.

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