Was ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ written while Lewis Carroll was under the influence of opium? That’s the bold assertion made by the curators of the ‘Alice’s Adventures in the Underground’ exhibition currently being hosted by The Psychedelic Museum in Bloomsbury’s small-but-perfectly-formed Horse Hospital. It would have been perfectly legal, after all: opium was a medicine of choice for the Victorians and Louisa May Alcott is thought to have been taking it when she wrote ‘Little Women’.
Whether or not the assertion is true I can understand why ‘Alice’ is so appealing to psychedelic artists such as John Coulthart, whose work forms the body of this exhibition. The book’s themes and characters are brilliantly brought to life through the vibrant colours and enigmatic images on display – the picture below being a good example. Through the artist’s eyes, we view the twelve chapters of Alice’s 1860s world through a 1960s lens – and what an incredible place it turns out to be. There’s a reason why children and adults alike never tire of hearing about Alice’s adventures with the Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts et al, and this fascination underpins Coulthart’s work, as well as the other works on display – I was particularly taken with Alexander Korzer-Robinson’s shadow boxes, which re-imagine scenes from a hypothetical Wonderland, created from vintage illustrations.
I wouldn’t say this is the most informative of exhibitions – I learned far more about Lewis Carroll, his illustrator John Tenniel and the on-going impact of their work at the British Library’s ‘Alice’ exhibition last year. But visually, it is stunning and seeing the different interpretations of the book and the various mediums used by the artists to bring their respective images of ‘Alice’ to life. I also enjoyed my first visit to The Horse Hospital – so named, apparently, because it is the only existing unspoilt example remaining in London of a two-floor, purpose-built stable available for public access.