Sunday, 25 October 2009

Nobuyoshi Araki, photographer

On the 6th of November, 2006, I interviewed the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki at a quiet little bar in Shinjuku. Throughout the interview he swayed, fidgetted, spoke erractically, and made constant exclamations, sometimes in English (indicated in the text by quotation marks).

After the interview, my interpreter and I accompanied him to a small "snack" bar, where he sang karaoke and was interviewed by an NHK TV crew. After that, my memory starts to get foggy, but I definitely missed the last train home.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Trevor Brown, painter

In September 2009, I interviewed controversial English artist Trevor Brown by e-mail over a period of about a week for a feature article in Metropolis. This wasn't because of my usual laziness, but because TB doesn't particularly care for face-to-face interviews.

CBL: One of the main aims of this article is to help people understand your art. So I want to deal with how your art is misunderstood. Do you understand why your art is so easily misunderstood or are you baffled that many people can’t seem to take it the same way that you paint it?

TB It's art. There isn't really a correct way to interpret it. At least, that is, I don't have any ulterior manifesto with what I do and then feel dismayed if people don't "get it". I think there's some very blatant humour in much (if not all) my work and I'm surprised when people totally manage to overlook that. But any response is fine. You want to make people think or affect them. To that end I do consciously make my work ambiguous and open to (mis)interpretation, deliberately sending out conflicting messages. Being provocative without blunt facile shock value (though of course many people condemn it as purely that). I often find the bizarre hostility my work sometimes creates reflects back on the antagonist's own hang ups and insecurities. Because of one certain painting a Jewish girl started berating me as being a Nazi - also a supporter of unit 731 atrocities because I live in Japan!

CBL: Difficult art reaches its meeting point with its audience via a period of mystification. The audience go through a period when they don’t “get it” – even if they pretend to – and then they “get it.” Your art by contrast never seems to have that hallowed mystification period. It’s so easy to “get,” but usually in the wrong way. I remember my first response was the conventional one of this guy’s a bit of a sicko with a pedo thing going on. That satisfied most of my brain but there was something else that made me take a deeper look and appreciate various other qualities – a kind of cherishing, sweetness, irony, and empathy that at first didn’t quite make sense. But isn’t the main problem the fact that your art provides people so easily with the tools to misunderstand it, and once something has been properly misunderstood, people’s brains do tend to close down, don’t they?

TB: Yes. I should just leave my answer as that as I probably can't expound any further on what you said fairly perceptively. I think people prefer to avoid saying anything about my work. They get confused, the brain short-circuits on the conflicting signals, so rather than try to work it out themselves they'll go along with someone else's suitably pre-packaged opinion. The knee-jerk "feel good" sicko/pedo accusation being the obvious lazy favourite. Safety in numbers. Much better than having to form their own response and possibly concluding there might be more to it than that. Discussion of my work always falls into opposing fractions: those who love it and those who hate it. There's little middle ground, unless you get someone saying they're indifferent to it as an intended insult. After around two decades of artistic endeavour I don't think there's ever been much in the way of serious critical analysis of my work. This lack of artistic respect (or only being permitted the very minimum of such) is in fact something I do feel a little saddened by.

CBL: With regards to Li’l Miss Sticky Kiss, you said that people who see her black eye as the result of child abuse are only revealing their own evil natures. To quote: “Anyone putting dark violent connotations on my work is really just exposing the sick states of their own minds rather than mine.”

TB: I believe so. Who said she was a victim of child abuse? How do people immediately come to that conclusion? They are making the sinister associations, not me (yet I get the blame for them!). There could be countless innocent reasons how she came to have a black eye. Kids are prone to accidents and injuries of one sort or another. No one would think twice about a child with grazed knees or even a broken arm. Also the images are just dressing-up make-belief - cosplay! She's variously a nurse, a punk, a witch, a cowgirl, a soldier etc. Wouldn't it be likely that the black eye is pretend too?

CBL: Are you perhaps being a little defensively reverse judgmental? Isn’t it human nature to come to conclusions based on less than perfect evidence? If we encounter an injured child dressed in what could be seen as a sexually suggestive way, then probably most people would think there was something funny going on.

TB; Just one little step further to the "she deserved it because she looks like whore" mentality of thinking? At least if it wasn't for the fact she's a (doll-like approximation of a) child, which carries it's own set of over-riding automated responses. Personally I'm not sure how much this is due to "human nature" or prurient media conditioning. In my old home country of England you get the Sunday gutter press launching campaigns with screaming editorials to "name and blame" sex offenders. Then flip the page and you get a barrage of advertisements for telephone sex, etc. and a huge titillating photograph of a barely 18 year old (serving what purpose?). The average reader is oblivious to the two-faced hypocrisy of this. The media is also responsible for making a black eye a symbol of abuse and stockings a symbol of promiscuity. Here in Japan it's not unusual to see a preteen in stockings (or "knee socks"). And for acclimatised long-term ex-pats like myself the response doesn't go beyond "doesn't she look cute."

CBL: One inevitable effect of the general misunderstanding of your art is that you have unwittingly become something of an outcast figure. This, combined with the fact that you are something of an artistic exile and a person who stubbornly refuses to bow to pressure, gives you an aura of integrity that sits uneasily with pariah status. Will this ultimately play to your benefit and lead people to “rethink” Trevor Brown?

TB: I feel strangely flattered by the question but ultimately my naive unconscious notion of integrity has only led to my downfall (effectively) yet. And I'm not nearly as strong as imagined. I'm no art martyr (I believe I've said that before in interviews). I'm not even sure if I'm an outcast by choice. I do what I do. And, despite my negativity, I do happen to have a belief in myself and strength of conviction to follow my own artistic ideas against popular opinion. So while the weather is fine I'll continue to skate on thin ice for your delight or derision. I can't say whether the unique talent and genius of Trevor Brown will ever receive the deserved appreciation he's been deprived of (ahem!). The world is becoming an increasingly unforgiving place for the subject matter I've chosen. So, on the face of it, things look pretty pessimistic. But I guess the fact your magazine is interested in running this feature is a sign that an eventual "rethink" is not a total impossibility. Or, by some quirk, I could end up riding on the wave of hysteria and get noticed as the only sane voice?! As always, it's all down to luck. Ninety-nine doors get slammed in my face but one is found open. The power of the person holding that door open is what decides my fate.

CBL: Would it be possible to describe the mix of elements in your paintings – DARK (bondage, injury, swastikas, etc.) + LIGHT (cuteness, innocence, young girls, Teddy Bears, etc.) – as necessary to achieve an aesthetic effect? I ask this because the one without the other would in fact be very tedious. Partially under the influence of Japonisme, the French artist and designer Rene Lalique routinely combined things thought ugly (bugs, frogs, dragonflies) with things considered beautiful to achieve beautiful designs instead of saccharine ones. Isn’t your art in essence an attempt along these lines to achieve beauty through a kind of contrast of opposites, or is it more complex than that?

TB: Basically it is just that. The banal secret of Trevor Brown art revealed. Though, when I first started doing this, soon after relocating to Japan in 1993, it was a relatively unique concept. Nowadays there seems to be countless artists who've latched onto this cute and sinister juxtaposition idea, many of whom achieving far greater success than me – and not attracting even a tiny fraction of the animosity I'm awarded. So maybe there is an unknown third ingredient that separates me from everyone else. (I bet it's sex!). I took cues from de Sade (scenarios of grotesque old hags mixed with perfect youths) and the perverse surreal eroticism of Bataille's "Story of the Eye" and Ballard's "Crash". For me it definitely is a quest for "a new form of beauty" (by pushing against common reason).

CBL: Independent of aesthetic effects, your work also resonates because it hints at darker things that lie within all of us, things that don’t square with the cuddly civilized default view of humanity that we try to keep up, the same one that breaks down whenever there’s a crisis, an imbalance of power, an outbreak of tribalism, or something else that removes the veneer of civilization. The routine sexual act itself, which we surround with a mystique of romance, actually involves a lot of brutality (thrusting, grunting, twisting) and degradation (sucking various parts of each other’s anatomies, etc.); sexual maturity happens a lot sooner than the law admits; and people, if they are honest with themselves, routinely have fleeting thoughts and occasional fantasies of murder, rape, being raped, or other dark deeds that we lock away. Your art reminds us of this kind of routine duplicity. What is you attitude to the fact that we lead this kind of double life? Is it good, is it necessary to keep up civilized pretences? And what do you think about the fact that your art reminds us of this darker side and our own duplicity? And possibly works to undermine it?

TB: Naturally I hope my work does expose such pretensions and undermines them within the viewer. If it does touch a nerve and makes them feel guilty, my job is done. I'll leave any deeper analysis of the human psyche to psychologists. Bluntly, in my opinion, if people don't want to be honest with themselves, why should I care? We all live a lie to varying degrees. It gets infuriating when those wearing masks of righteousness impose their two-faced ideals on you. Let's call it "the stupidly threat"! Specifically, art should not be forced into the position of having to work within restrictions. But this is starting to feel how things are for me now. And of course I feel frustrated and antagonised by this. I hate hypocrisy and the deceitful duplicity of the human animal has always given me a worthwhile target to taunt. But whereas previously it was probably more to do with personal amusement, now it's becoming more of a sociopolitical stance?! They give me a raison d'etre as much as my art gives them a raison d'etre.

CBL: Who buys your paintings? I get the impression that it’s mainly Japanese people. Can you give me some sort of breakdown? What sort of feedback do you get from them about what they like in your work?

TB: I sell much of my work myself to those who approach me via my website. In many cases the business deal of selling a painting to them is the only contact I have with them, they're not regular correspondents, and I know very little about them. Fortunately, not too many dealers (those buying work just to attempt to resell it at a profit). There's a few famous names and collectors on my client list. Fellow artists. Very few Japanese actually. I might be touching on the edge of getting enquiries from those wanting to buy "a Trevor Brown" just for the sake of having "a Trevor Brown" in their collection, rather than any genuine interest in my work. But most importantly there's always one very obsessive collector who'd buy absolutely everything I put my hand to if they had the money. This life-saving patron has changed a few times over the course of my career but typically they're long-term acquaintances, with similar interests, knowing my work from CD covers. And of course hold respectable jobs with the money to indulge their passion for art. But even with these guys I'm left to wonder exactly what it is about my work that attracts them. They'll fawn embarrassingly over paintings I wanted to destroy. People's tastes are all different. The typical Trevor Brown fan (a young female?) unfortunately cannot afford my work (or even my books in some cases) but they supply the most feedback. And of course they love its edgy rebelliousness, the beauty/cuteness, or personally relate to the images.

CBL: Why have you done so much better than other Western artists here?

TB: I don't really know many other gaijin artists. I bump into the photographer/artist Mario A. quite a lot, and he seems to be quite respected here. But I suspect there could be an unseen number of aspiring artists struggling to be "big in Japan" (despite the poor economy, Japan still retains a sort of prestigious trendiness). I've never tried hard at attempting to appeal to the Japanese (which might be a mistake many artist's make?) but just tried to stay my Western self – and let the influence of being in Japan naturally seep into my work (thus it became tainted by kawaii). When I first came here, as it was at the tail end of the bubble, there was interest in new things (foreign things!) and I had a little push and got introduced to many magazines. But after several months that was looking rather inconsequential and drying up. Then, just as I was starting to contemplate a miserable return home, I got my first real break. I was picked up by a magazine editor starting a new uncompromising eros/grotesque magazine, "Too Negative", which promoted me heavily during it's short life-span. He went on to form a (equally fairly short-lived) gallery and staged my first exhibitions here and published my first book (which sold out relatively fast). And at pretty much the same time I attracted the interest of the publishers Treville (now Editions Treville) who have published my work ever since, keeping my name in the spotlight, so to speak. It's just luck my work appeals to the taste of the editor. Although I guess he obviously must give some consideration to the buying public. My popularity probably still fairly cultish and marginal.

CBL: Japanese people seem to have an affinity for your work. I’m sure this is dismissed by critics as “they would wouldn’t they,” but what do you think they see that Westerners probably don’t?

TB: Too difficult to answer. I rarely hear from Japanese fans. They're a lot less troubled by the paedophilic element of it no doubt. Although, after translating some comments in Mixi, I've discovered there still seems to be shame attached to admitting they like my work. So in such a disciplined society, I guess my work could be attractive for being regarded as a little forbidden. And I suppose the relatively serene way my work deals with dark things appeals to the characteristic Japanese calm inscrutability. Also, of course,I don't think you can ever over-estimate the importance of "kawaii" here.

CBL: You left Britain many years ago. What specifically was the tipping point in terms of (a) push factors and (b) pull factors? Do you have any regrets?

TB: You can't have regrets because you can always go back. Nothing to lose. Which was exactly my situation at that point. I was working as a freelance commercial artist for advertising agencies mainly, but thanks to England's bad economy that work had almost reached a full-stop. I had some artistic aspirations of my own which were already getting more attention in Japan (a CD cover or two and articles in a fetish/SM magazine) than could ever possibly be imagined in England. I was in love with all things Japanese (or many things anyway, not quite a Japanophile nerd!). So, with a Japanese girlfriend holding my hand I left my home country. I had no big expectations though - it was a leap into the unknown. A fresh start in life as "an artist".

CBL: I recently interviewed Makoto Aida, another controversial artist, for a magazine back home, and now the publisher is worried about a test case over their choice to use “The Giant Member Fuji versus King Gidora” as it shows both penetration and violence. I felt suddenly Britain is becoming a lot less free, and that to a great extent this is driven by the kind of fragmented society we have, where more has to be done to pacify and satisfy special, highly-sensitive minority interest groups – i.e. feminists, Muslims, Christians, homosexuals, etc, etc., so that the end result is just more and more censorship, thoughtcrime, and not being allowed to do this and say that. Is Britain a hopeless case when it comes to intellectual and artistic freedom now?

TB: After I left England and could see it from the detached viewpoint of Japan, and annual summer visits, things did appear to be improving a bit there. Pornography was illegal when I left but at some point become accepted. But now it seems they want to regress back to grim Victorian values again by banning extreme pornography (which includes the old favourite British paraphilia of spanking) and there's a law going through currently that'll make possession of sexual depictions of minors a jailable offense. Loli-manga being the chief target here. I believe my own work is safe as it fails some of the clauses, but it's still quite worrying. It is an intellectually retarded direct censorious attack on art no matter how valid they believe it to be. Along with public surveillance cameras, ID cards, body scanners, etc., England is no longer a "land of hope and glory".

CBL: I guess one big difference between Japan and the West for an artist like you, is that the Japanese tend to be less assertively judgmental. They might have a few taboos (the emperor for some) and stereotypes, but a lot of stuff that would raise hackles in the West, simply don’t here. Example: Saw a man reading a newspaper on the train the other day. The page that was facing the rest of the carriage showed a woman with about 5 or 6 baseball bats shoved up her cunt. The other day in a comic shop, a nice selection of manga featuring animal-human sex within easy reach of junior. People dressing up as Nazis (once got off with a girl at a Halloween party dressed like this). Fashion-wise or drag-wise anything is possible, but back home you’d get your head kicked in. My point being in Japan hackles don’t rise. There is a tolerance or “none of my business” attitude, which is sometimes criticized by Western writers as lack of a civic spirit. What’s your take on the difference in the climate?

TB: I think you've said it all! "Back home you'd get your head kicked in". I laughed at that but sadly it's true and not so funny. So, although Japan has some perplexing pornography laws of its own one has to dance around, I do feel "safe" and free here. It's unfortunate Japan bows down to Western pressures to come into line with their superior moral ethics. Having said that I've just been half-watching some pop music show on TV (while eating dinner), and cringing at the awfulness of every second of it. Ridiculous identikit pop groups who place a hundred times more importance on their stupid (identical) haircuts and stupid (identical) dance routines, than on any actual musical talent. Sometimes you could really welcome some imposed American / British standards here.

CBL: By living in Japan and inevitably comparing this society with others I’ve known I get the feeling that the difference is that Western culture is inherently totalitarian in the sense that morality is supposed all add up and harmonize – we see this in Christianity and Islam and now in political correctness. In Japan they are much happier with inconsistencies or things not necessarily being on the same page, which seems a much more realistic attitude. If people don’t like your art in Japan they just won’t go to your exhibitions or buy your stuff, but in the West, if they don’t like something they’ll try to burn you as a witch or something. Would you say the West is still living with the legacy of centuries of authoritarian Christianity and this is one of the attractions of Japan?

TB: Religion? Urgh! I don't want to talk about that. I'm a Fundamental Atheist. But I suppose everyone needs a belief-system whether it's a non-existing entity, a football team, a pop group or a packet of cigarettes. It's disturbing people can't worship their chosen object of desire in privacy but instead feel impelled to kill others who support a different brand of cigarettes. It's a sign of weakness. If they really believed their god was so omniscient they wouldn't need to attack those of differing inferior ideologies. Strangely it doesn't work like that though. The more fanatical they are the more their doctrine must be enforced on others. Anyway, I wasn't going to talk about religion.
(Whilst reading your question I suddenly thought about telegraph poles(!) here in Japan in some sort of analogous way. Looking up at the incomprehensible haphazard tangled mess of wires it looks positively tribal for such a hi-tech city. But somehow it all works. So don't question it. Don't interfere with it. Don't disturb the delicate balance. You don't understand it, it's nothing to do with you, so leave it alone!) The Japanese mind-your-own-business disposition is so great they'll walk past someone lying on the ground bleeding to death. But generally it's mostly admirable I think. England is partially like that. But they also have a strong "nosy-parker" side. If two strangers do start talking in a train, within a few minutes they'll know absolutely everything about each other. This interfering "busy-body" trait (of British and all nationalities) is amplified and unleashed much more on the internet, as they are able to retain personal invisibility. Thus you get vigilante individuals with apparent frightening power. This kinda goes back to what you were saying about not wanting to step on the toes of any minority groups. Among other things, I've been banned, for life(!), by Paypal because some person complained to them about my work. They immediately, without warning, closed my account and pocketed my (sizable) funds for six months. They deemed my work to be pornography involving minors. When i tried to dispute this libellous accusation they snapped back: "This matter is considered closed. Any further correspondance [sic spelling] about this issue will go unanswered." How nice of them, Judge, jury and executioner! As there's little or no alternatives open to me, effectively I am forbidden from conducting any online business and making money ever, even if I become a born-again Christian selling flowers in aid of famine victims. Sigh! The endless joys of my poor career choice!

CBL: One of the things I guess people like about your art is the sense that its highly crafted in the way that a good ukiyo-e print is. I read the description of how you work (sketching, scanning, Photoshop, blow up, carbon transfer to canvas, painting) and, in the same way as ukiyo-e, there are many stages and it is very methodical. Does this give you a certain detachment from the creative process compared to putting an image more directly onto the canvas?

TB: In a way, yes. I'm redrawing the same image over and over so I do lose some attachment to it, which could be viewed as artistically disingenuous. It loses the primal immediacy of, say, Francis Bacon. But, then, that's not what my art is about. I think the emotional coldness works in my favour (which is also why I use dolls). I'm amused by people believing my stuff is computer graphics. But I don't think my paintings are actually that artistically sterilised. Mostly it's coming straight out of my head, I rarely use photographic reference. The "bad" drawing remains. Also a certain "hand-made" roughness (invisible on jpegs perhaps) as I'm lazy and lack the technical mastery to paint extremely finely.

CBL: This way of working leads me to suspect that you don’t want to face the creative edge too directly or too consciously and that this allows a freer flow from your subconscious. How important are your methods in allowing the imagination to do its thing?

TB: I don't think it is possible to make the process mindless so the original conception remains untainted. I think this is a universal problem for all artists. Naturally I wish there was a more direct route from brain to canvas rather than having to go through the whole physical creative process. Drawing is a struggle. Things always get lost along the way. The end result never quite living up to expectations. But I guess that's what keeps me going. Striving for satisfaction.

CBL: A lot of your art, it seems to me, is an exploration of human frailty – both physical (Medical Fun, Rubber Doll, the Babies Book, the Crash Babies) and mental (images of craving for stimulation, power, or domination that runs through much of your work). I am strangely reminded of the aesthetic of Hagi-ware tea utensils, where imperfection, lopsidedness, and cracks in the glaze, showing the inner clay and collecting tea stains, are important to reveal the true nature of the object – in this case a thing made from clay by human hands for drinking tea from. The perfect surface is avoided as it is, in a sense, deceitful. Would it be true to say that your work too aims to show us with the glaze cracked or missing in places? Isn’t your art actually a search for a more intense and all-rounded humanity? And wouldn’t you need to hide this if it were true?

TB: Another difficult to answer question. Things are never quite black and white with my work. Opposites are blurred. Perfection and imperfection are mixed up. I actually try to make things perfect. I want everything idealised. I like cliches and stereotypes. I like things aestheticised, simple, centred and symmetrical. My drawing is "naturally" lop-sided so I put it in the computer to correct it. But, the end result is always "flawed". Sometimes quite deliberately. I'll feel obliged to throw in something to knock it off balance. Or add realism. What at first looks like a symmetrical girl's face, you notice, on closer inspection, her left eye is blue and right eye brown. It fits the Trevor Brown world better. A world which follows it's own rules of course. A world in which Siamese babies are considered beautiful and not abominations. And, yes, a world tending to revolve around the idea of fragility. Polluted (rather than outright corrupted) innocence. But, interestingly, I've often found that my harem of "weak" girls will be viewed as symbols of potency by feminist type grrrls. I won't attempt any reasoning on that.

CBL: The pedophilia thing is, I think, a recurring problem, and I know we’ll run into this when the article comes out, so it might be interesting to deal with it by stepping outside the realm of art and asking you in a very straightforward way what you think the age of consent should be? In other words what do you regard as the limits of human sexual behaviour. Animals? (We kill them anyway, why not fuck them?) Incest? Necrophilia? Etc. Where do we…ahem…draw the line? Do you perhaps have rather conventional views on these sexual taboos when you are away from art? Is your love life anything remotely like your paintings?

TB: Yeah, in person I'm way more conservatively normal, boring and conventional than the Trevor Brown art ogre. You may have noticed that throughout this interview I'm always using the term "my work" rather than "my," as if to very clearly differentiate them as two separate entities. I'm not even particularly sexually attracted to children at all. Well, physically, not until around the age of 14 but even then intellectual immaturity would make them fall short of desirability for me (although 14 year old females fans that have written to me haven't sounded exactly stupid). I love 18 year olds who look 12! (The way things are going it won't be long before that is illegal too!). It's utterly ridiculous setting the age of consent, etc., at 18 and anything below that is "child abuse" territory. Girls are most sexually ripe at around 17 (my wife said this!) and they are no longer kids at that age so they shouldn't be treated as such. I don't have solutions but clearly we just need a little common sense to prevail here, unlikely as that is. Homosexuality and SM practices are variously legal or illegal depending on where you are carrying out such acts on the globe. I think most would accept them as healthy fair-play if consensual for all involved parties. Outside parties, dictating what you can and cannot do in the privacy of your own home, should just not be involved at all. Bestiality and necrophilia, fair game for art, but in the real world probably cross the taboo line because of the issue of consent.

CBL: Also, we can maybe deal with the Nazi thing the same way. Just for the record, what are your non-artistic views on the Holocaust? Did it happen? Was it bad? Was it so particularly bad that it should be remembered more than the Armenian genocide, Stalin’s class genocide of the kulaks, the tens of millions killed by Mao, the genocide in Rwanda and Cambodia? Personally, I find it strange that people can be jailed in Europe just for disagreeing with a particular version of history, not that I’m about to jump into bed with Ahmadinejad. Also, are you, as we are all expected to be these days, an unreserved humanistic who believes that all human life is sacred, even on our overpopulated planet?

TB: My interest in the swastika is purely for its aesthetic beauty and the fact it pisses people off to a curiously disproportional extent. It's (supposed to be) a good luck symbol folks, calm down. It's still banned in Germany. What's the point? Seems they (and who are "they" now???) want it kept front page news forever. But it's history now, generations old. So old that we get all these rampant revisionist theories trying to tell us the photos of piles of concentration camp corpses were done in Photoshop. All "isms" are to be questioned – I can't align myself with any. I'm probably more selfist than humanist. Trevor Brownism.

CBL: Turning to Alice: Famously Alice presented Walt Disney with quite a challenge mainly because the image that people had – largely due to Tenniel’s iconic images – was so strong that the Disney people couldn’t redefine or Disneyfy it in quite the same way as other projects where they effectively made the story the company’s property. The recent Mary Blair exhibition in Tokyo showed some of this, as the original conceptual art tried hard to create an entirely new version of the character, but gradually Disney had to compromise and move back towards Tenniel’s powerful image. With your Alice project, do you think that it is hard to “own” Alice? Are you are in any way constrained by people’s strong pre-existing image of Alice? Are you trying to work within the existing iconography or break with it?

TB: Depressingly Walt Disney have very much popularised and authenticated the Tenniel illustrations as the official version, which all future renditions are now almost compelled to follow, or appear fake. The real life Alice didn't have blond hair. In the books it doesn't say Alice wore a pale blue dress. Or even that the mad-hatter was wearing a hat! Okay, I'm echoing here something Marylin Manson said while discussing his interest in Lewes Carroll, I'm not about to re-read the books to verify this. I think it's true though. Inevitably the Tim Burton version, being "true to the stories' essence", also has Alice in a pale blue dress, but also has her as looking approximately thirty years old – what's up with that? Authenticity is out the window for my interpretation(s), except I do at least keep her as a young girl. The first painting I did was in fact based on the classic Alice image. Once I got that token effort of pandering to expectations out of my system, I was free to break the tradition and do what I wanted. My paintings totally ignore the stories as often as they stay relatively faithful to them. All quite different. I could never do it as a bona-fide cohesive illustrated Alice by Trevor Brown. My boredom threshold is too low. There'll be around thirty paintings, a couple of years work.

CBL: Did you prepare yourself for this project by reading the books? Is your interest intrinsic in the sense of an interest in Lewis Carroll’s book and the relationship between him Alice, or is it more focused on the sort of generic idea of Lolita that she tends to conjure up? In others words, what prompted this choice of subject matter?

TB: There are several things that got me started on the project. I'll make a list, it's easiest:
i) Firstly I did a cover for "Alice Through the Looking Glass" published by Creation Books around ten years ago. That would be the last time I re-read the books completely actually. There was one or two funny reviews on of purchasers highly perturbed to discover none of my drawings inside. I took note.
ii) Then a couple of years ago a magazine/book here called "Yaso" asked for five illustrations to go in an issue they were doing on Alice and Victoriana. I did those paintings and decided not to stop at five as I enjoyed doing them and needed a theme for my own next book.
iii) Needless to say I love the books. Mostly because they are so surreal but also because of the "darker side" of why they were written: infatuation with a little girl.
iv) Alice is something easy to understand and minimum commercial risk. Lots of Alice collectors. A perennial favourite for all ages.
v) The fact it's a children's book. My previous books "Li'l Miss Sticky Kiss" and "My Alphabet" were both pseudo children's books.
vi) It ties in with the (trendy?) interest in gothic lolita culture. And I like girlishness.
vii) Plus subversive druggy references, links to sixties psychedelia.
viii) And most perversely, despite being so publicly popular and acceptable, ironically it's a symbol for paedophilia.