Grimms Märchen (Grimm Tales)

Text by Philip Pullman

In 2012 I was approached by my German editor Klaus Humann of Aladin Verlag in Hamburg to consider a cover illustration, as well as perhaps some some internal drawings for a new edition of the Grimm Brothers collected folk tales written by Philip Pullman (the well known author of the His Dark Materials trilogy). I thought about this for some time, as I've always wanted to do something Grimm related but didn't have an ideal approach (or much time for commissions). Philip had chosen a selection of 50 favourite fairy tales, and written them with a thoughtful clarity that will appeal to modern readers yet keeping true to their original spirit. I was particularly interested in the scholarly notes at the end of each tale, offering background, critique and even a few suggested improvements from a writer's point of view; I was also interested in Philip's introduction which praises the concise, 'cardboard character' narrative of Grimm's fairty tales and points out they do not necessarily benefit much from illustration. A good problem for a visual artist! And one I'm inclined to agree with: I'd long ago researched fairy tales as a possible illustration project, but soon gave it up as the tales had such an abstracted quality about them, I couldn't think of a suitable 'way in' as an artist who favours representational imagery. While I love such illustrations as those by Arthur Rackham, I've always felt they conflict with my own less literal experience a reader. And in many cases, the tales are just too strange or irrational for conventional 'scenes'.

So I was a little reluctant at first, but soon began to think of ways I could avoid painiting or drawing altogether. As a child, I was actually more obsessed with sculpture than painting and drawing, working with clay, papier mache and soapstone, and was reminded of this when browsing through my collection of books on folk art and particularly Inuit scultpure and Pre-Columbian figurines from Mexico. Many of these small, hand-sized sculptures are strongly narrative and dreamlike, and offered a 'way in' to thinking about Grimm's stories as part of an old creative tradition. The works I ended up creating hopefully convey the spirit of each tale without actually illustrating them, like anonymous artifacts in a museum open to all kinds of interpretation.

While other editions of Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales are available, including British and US, these are unillustrated and the German edition is the only one currently available that features my illustrations. You can find out more about it at Aladin Verlag.

Following publication of Grimms Märchen in 2013, I continued creating further sculptures for other tales not included in the original selection. I also wanted to bring the work to English language audiences, after US and UK publishers declined to use my imagery in relation to Grimm Tales. The result is The Singing Bones, essentially an art book featuring 75 sculptures accompanied by short extracts from each story, first published by Allen & Unwin in October 2015 (cover image below), and for which Philip Pullman was kind enough to write a foreword.

'Hansel and Gretel' Paper, clay, paint, wax and cake decorations, approx 25cm tall.

Cover for the original German edition published by Aladin Verlag

'Hansel and Gretel' Paper, clay, paint, wax and cake decorations, approx 25cm tall.

'The Fisherman's Wife' Paper, clay, paint, string, sand, approx 20cm tall.

'The Golden Bird' Paper, clay, paint, paint, shoepolish, approx 20cm tall.

'Godfather Death' Paper, clay, paint, approx 25cm tall.

'Anthropologists' and 'Automatic Teller', pencil.

'Most of the time Eric seemed more interested in small things he discovered on the ground.'

'Coral Tree, Bundanon' ink and pastel crayon on grey paper

Endpaper designs - a page from Eric's private notebooks?

preliminary sketch for The Rabbits, 'They came by water', pencil

Sketches from the Anthropology Museum, Mexico City, ballpoint pen