Fairy Tale: Contemporary Art and Enchantment

(Fairy Tale: Contemporary Art and Enchantment is a book about the exhibition held at the New Art Gallery Walsall in 2007.)

Fairy Tale: Contemporary Art and Enchantment

The book talks about six internationally known artists who exposed at the New Art Gallery Walsall. These artists retell fairy tales through contemporary art – they are said to charge their work with the atmosphere of these tales.

The Evolution of Fairy Tales by Stella Beddoe

Stella Beddoe, who is Keeper of Decorative Art at the Royal Pavilion Art Gallery and Museums, discusses the evolution of fairy tales in a short essay. She talks about the way fairy tales originated from oral folk tradition and passed from one story teller to another. “In the distant past, they fulfilled the need to make sense, in human terms, of the world’s incomprehensible phenomena and even now, they help to compensate for the lack of power, wealth and pleasure in the lives of certain people” (pg 9). The idea of reassurance is forever present in fairy tales (even though it may be forgotten today when they are adapted to the horror genre), it was their initial purpose. According to Beddoe, the genre itself emerged in Renaissance Italy, when Boccacio’s The Decameron was published; the many stories featured, aren’t just fairy-tales but do contain certain elements of the genre. The Decameron, in turn, inspired other writers in Europe such as Geoffrey Chaucer who included fairy tale elements in his Canterbury Tales. In England, she notes that some of Shakespeare’s plays have fairy tale structures (Cymbeline, King Lear, The Winter’s Tale) and others feature many different supernatural beings (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, The Tempest). In France, they slowly took the form of the tales we know today, mainly through Charles Perrault. Antoine Galland was the first to translate the Arabian Nights into french, into twelve volumes which were issued between 1704 and 1717. Beddoe also argues that it was the french noblewomen of the 17th century (Charles Perrault was one of the few men who wrote fairy stories) who first added the moralising tone in fairy tales. From then on, they were considered as children’s stories, meant to protect them.

A lovely quote by Charles Dickens featured in Fraud on the Fairies shows just how much fairy tales are important, not only to him but also to a prospering nation in general: “ It is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected […] A nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will hold a great place under the sun”. Apparently, he even stated that the Arabian Nights in particular saved him and fed his imagination.

(It is also interesting to note that the three nineteenth-century authors Oscar Wilde, Charles Dodgson and James Barrie were successful in writing fairy stories which remain popular today.)

The Six Artists and their retellings of tales by Angela Kingston

Angela Kingston, a freelance curator and writer, then goes on to talk about the work of the six artists featured in the exhibition:

Paul Morrison, who combines imagery from cartoons, botanical illustrations and children’s books to depict landscapes. The logic of perspective is not respected and there are anomalies in the notion of scale. The worlds pictured are black and white (no grey, no shadows) which suggests the existence only of either absolute good or absolute evil like is often the case in fairy tales.

           'Phytochrome'_by_Paul_Morrison,_2008                                               paul-morrison

Vanessa Jane Phaff whose work is similar to children’s book illustrations. In the work presented in the book, she retells the fairy tale Little red riding hood which she understands in terms of an internal, psychological struggle.


Kiki Smith focuses on animal/groom tales such as beauty and the beast and the frog prince, where young women meet repellent animals or creatures under curses which they eventually break. She revisits the stories, where the women prefer their beastly state.


Janaina Tschäpe creates her own visual narratives. In some of her work, she reintroduces the more gruesome elements of the original tales, present before Disney and Hollywood took hold of them.

        tschaipeexhibit                  tumblr_lnx1v0g1EQ1qkivono1_500

Annelies Strba uses digitised stills and pictures to depict fairies and fantasy worlds. The images are blurred with heightened colours.


Peter Callesen explores the notion that fairy tales usually include the magical transformation of an ordinary elements into an extraordinary one. This is what he does, creating a fairy tale castle with only one single, very large sheet of paper.


I find his other work with paper truly impressive. His work can be viewed on his website at: http://www.petercallesen.com/paper/a4-papercuts/

            Peter-Callesen12                  13_butterflies-trying-to-escape-their-shadow_v2


These artist are seen as restoring a sort of fantasy to contemporary art as well as reawakening the sensibilities or fairy tales such as the dark undercurrents and the sexual appeal.

I believe art is subjective and that the ideas and interpretations presented above may have a strong impact on certain people. It’d be interesting to explore these ideas when adapting a fairy tale to the big screen.



Beddoe, S. Kingston, A. 2007. Fairy Tale Contemporary Art and Enchantment. The New Art Gallery Walsall. Manchester: Cornerhouse Publications

http://www.angelakingston.co.uk/page3.htm (and other images can be found on google images).


Beddoe, S. Kingston, A. 2007. Fairy Tale Contemporary Art and Enchantment. The New Art Gallery Walsall. Manchester: Cornerhouse Publications (http://www.angelakingston.co.uk/page3.htm)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s