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Chris Hoggins and Josey the Whale at the Kave Gallery

Chris Hoggins and Josey the Whale contemplate Dweeblings at the Kave Gallery.

Dweeblings in Wonderland – at the Kave Gallery

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland must be one of the most frequently illustrated books on the planet – but the world has probably never seen anything close to Chris Hoggins’ interpretation of it!  His lovable-yet-slightly-sinister characters, the Dweeblings, are well known to  afficionados of the Kave Gallery, but this latest exhibition sees them indulging in uncharacteristic activities. HOT reporter Cathy Simpson talks to Chris about his inspiration and ideas.

Interestingly, Chris did not see either the whole story, or read the book, until he was a young adult; prior to that, he had gained impressions of it from fragments of Disney productions, Jeff Noone’s Automated Alice and the like, and it had ‘sunk in by osmosis’ or, as he put it, ‘The actual reading was all in the wrong order. I read Automated Alice, which was illustrated in the style of Tenniel – I’d better read the proper thing!’

The Disney interpretation, of course, is cutesy and sentimental, and Chris was fascinated by quite how vicious the original story is. It does not talk down to children, and is redolent of the stoicism of Empire: ‘Right – whole world’s gone weird. What do we do now?’ Much of the subtext would pass straight by children and, of course, much of it would have been more meaningful to its Victorian readership than to us.  The story lends itself to many different levels of interpretation – and so do Chris’s illustrations.

The Dweeblings are apparently cute with large eyes, and you never see them with their mouths open – possibly because they are full of piranha teeth – ‘they mess about and see a lot of fun with everything.’ Many of the images in the exhibition are very complex, and bear closer scrutiny. Chris explained the imagery of The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in depth:

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Every detail in this piece has been carefully considered – why are March hares considered mad? In folk lore, this related to their mating rituals in March: Chris has alluded to this in that his necklace is a raccoon’s penis bone (traditionally worn by gigolos to ward off STDs) and the character is wearing boxing gloves.

The black triangle is a reference to the badge attached to people with mental health problems under the Nazi regime.

The Mad Hatter wears a castle on his head – a truncated version of one built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who had been declared insane, having spent all the royal revenues on lavish building projects.

The dormouse bears a reference to Disney, with a Mickey Mouse hat. His striped pyjamas parallel the black triangle worn by the March Hare.

The story of the Walrus and the Carpenter is depicted in the teapot; the galleon is clearly featured, the king is at the bezel on the top, sealing wax drips from the, er, ceiling, and the cabbages surround the base. For the more perceptive among you, the Cheshire Cat grins cheerfully from one of the trees in the background.

Alice herself is described as ‘the eye of the storm’ – bemused, an observer in a world which makes no sense to her, a world in which she is either ‘digging a hole’ – or falling down one.

A detailed analysis of all the works here can be found at Chris’s website.

Pool of Tears

Pool of Tears.

By contrast, I asked Chris about one of the simpler images, the Pool of Tears. Even this has a deeper, metaphorical interpretation. As ever, Alice is bemused. However, Chris was particularly taken by the power of the scene in the book, and the irony of drowning in one’s own misery – here rendered by the ‘gloopiness’ of the waves and the sensual lines produced by pen and ink.

Interestingly, all the works in the exhibition are rendered either in biro or pen and ink – no colour – which adds to the impression of Victorian book illustration. The rich use of line and texture is more than enough!

This is a delightful, thought-provoking exhibition which deserves to have time spent with it. The work is also EXTREMELY affordable; prints are available for £25.00, and smaller items such as booklets, badges, fridge magnets and greetings cards can be yours for between £1.50 and £4.50.

The Dweeblings in Wonderland can be seen at the Kave Gallery, 8 Kings Road, St Leonards, TN37 6EA until 15 April 2014.

Opening hours: Mon-Sun 11.00-17.00.

Tel: 01424 422056.

Posted 13:51 Wednesday, Feb 5, 2014 In: Visual Arts

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