As a child I was obsessed with the darker fairy tales. I didn’t really want to know about the princesses, I just wanted to know about the monsters and villains. I didn’t necessarily want them to be victorious in the stories either, I just wanted to know more about them, as I felt they got a bum deal in the description stakes.
What I really loved was the original tales, you know where the little mermaid got legs, but she was in constant pain, and didn’t end up with the prince… or where the ugly sisters were made to dance to death in hot lead shoes, because these served as more of a moral tale than the softened version.
Milne is an American artist, born in the 1970s, whose work seems to be filled with childhood memories and bright colours, yet underneath the surface they have some basis in love, loss, pain and heartbreak. They caputre his child like imagination combined with themes which are fairly trumatic no matter what age you experience them.
There is a hazy familiarity to Milne’s techinque as it reflects picture books that her audiences may have had growing up, and there are hints of familiar stories, whch my be why she has become a popular artist, through presenting another view on life through a candy cane lens.
The palette that she uses varies from bright colours on a muted background, to simple black and white, bring variation to her work.
“Lynrose” presents the viewer with a sugary sweet house in what seems to be a candy forest, it looks warm and inviting from the smoke that is coming from the chimney, but with the skeletons lurking, there is a heavy sense of loss and death peering over this scene. It is hard to ignore the skull apple next to the house which throws up memories of the apple from Disney’s “Snow White” that the evil queen uses to lure Snow White in to her coma like sleep.
This painting really brings the story of Hansel and Gretel back to me, and I always find it odd as an adult that we park these when we get to a certain age, only to revist should we have children.
Written in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm, Hansel and Gretel is probably one of the few stories that is not soften that much, just in case you can’t fully remember the story I will give you the WidowCranky run down.
Deep in the forest, a wood cutter and his family had a small home. A famine has hit the land, and in despair the mother comes up with a plan to keep her husband and herself alive. She explains to the wood cutter, that they should take their children, Hansel and Gretel, into the forest and leave them there to fend for themselves. The woodcutter is initially opposed to this (obviously this was way before foraging was hip and trendy), but finally agrees to this plan. Hansel and Gretel over hear their parents talking, and Hansel sneeks out in the night and collects white pebbles.
The next day, the mother leads her children into the woods and leaves them, but clever Hansel has dropped the pebbles so that he and his sister can find their way home.
On returning the mother is furious and locks the chldren up so that they are unable to gather more pebbles. The next morning, the mother again takes them in to the forest, this time Hansel had taken a loaf of bread so that he could drop crumbs in order to allow him to leave a trail so that they could follow it home (god knows why, his parents are clearly abhorrent).
When the children try to follow the trail home, they find that the birds of the woods have eaten the crumbs, so the are lost. After a few days of wandering the woods, the children follow a white bird to a clearing where they find a house made of gingerbread and candy.
Tired and hungry the children start to eat the house, only for an ugly and blood thirsty witch to come out and catch them. Initially the witch invites the children in and treats them well, giving them a good meal and a hot bath, finally putting them to bed. The next morning, however the wtich throws Hansel in to a cage, with the intention of fattening him up to eat, forcing Gretel to be her slave.
The witch does not have good eyesight, and Hansel uses this to his advantage, and while he is caged and being fed for weeks, the witch periodcially checks if he is fattening up… Hansel pokes a finger bone from a previous victim through the bars. I’m just going to point out here that while Hansel is locked in a cage being fed, poor old Gretel is having to slave away. Eventually the witch gets fed up and decides to eat Hansel anyway.
The next day, the witch gets Gretel to prep the oven to cook Hansel, but she also decides that she is hungry enough to eat Gretel, so tries to coax Gretel to look in the oven so that she can push her in. Gretel, not being stupid, says to the witch that she doesn’t understand what she means and asked her to show her how to look in the oven, as the witch does this, Gretel pushes the witch into the oven and she shuts the door, leaving her to burn.
As the children leave the house, Gretel spots a vase full of tresure which she picks up, and the children go to find their way home. Eventually finding their house, they see their father alone. Their mother has died from an unknown cause, so the children and their father live happily ever after on the witches tresure.
Later this story was changed so that it was an evil step mother, as it was deemed too traumatic to let children think that their biological mothers could do something so horrid.
There is a link between this story and a Russian fairy tale, where the witch is Baba Yaga, who bares a great resmeblance to Gryla, all witches that crave the flesh of children. These stories where to created to scare children into being good (the germans love a story that scare children… look up shock headed Peter if you don’t believe me), but there is also something about how clever children will always come out on top.
Milne’s painting I feel reflects the sorrow which surrounds the sugary sweet house, with the implication that children have died there, but with the larger skeleton looming, depicting the inevitable death of the witch, but I also think that there is something else to this. There is a way in which we teach children about death, trying to sugar coat it and soften the blow of loss for children, which can ultimately perpetuate a silent fear about it hence the “Shh…” in the painting, as it is almost a taboo subject that is not spoken about. I think introducing death as a celebration of life to children would cease this fear, but think about every story we are told as a child (with the exception of Bambi), princesses fall into 100 year sleeps and children escape cannibal witches… only with the monsters dying, which is brushed over, with little emotion… as they are the bad guys.
For me, Milne’s work reflects all of theses ideas, presenting them in a fairytale setting, and her work really makes me think.
What do you see in “Lynrose”? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? why not share it?