The beauty of ugly and the whimsy of negative space.
As a lover of fairy tales — especially little-known gems like those E.E. Cummings wrote for his only daughter or beloved classics illustrated by creative legends like Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, and Alice and Martin Provensen — I was delighted to discover Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with illustrations by David Hockney (public library), in which the celebrated contemporary artist and pop art icon adds to history’s finest visual takes on the Grimm tales. This tiny treasure, originally published in 1970 by the British Royal Academy of Arts and reissued in 2012, features Hockney’s weird and wonderful drawings for The Little Sea Hare, Fundevogel, Rapunzel, The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear, Old Rinkrank, and Rumpelstilzchen.
What makes Hockney’s visual interpretation especially enchanting is that while traditional fairy tale images tend to rely on beauty and color to create magic and contrast the beautiful and the ugly to distinguish between good and evil, even the princesses in his black-and-white illustrations are unassuming, ugly even; where ornate, detailed imagery would ordinarily fill the traditional visual vignette, Hockney’s ample use of negative space invites the imagination to roam freely. Perhaps above all, his haunting, scary, architectural illustrations serve as a testament to J.R.R. Tolkien’s assertion that, even if they might appeal to the young, fairy tales are not written “for children.”
Here are a few favorite etchings.
Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with illustrations by David Hockney is an absolutely wonderful little tome, doubly so for the gorgeous fabric-bound red cover and the elegant, minimalist black-white-and-red typesetting of the story text. Pair it with the best illustrations from 130 years of Brothers Grimm fairy tales and how Hans Christian Andersen changed storytelling.
For more famous artists’ illustrations for literary classics, see Matisse’s 1935 etchings for Ulysses, Milton Glaser’s art for Lord Byron’s “Don Juan,” Picasso’s drawings for a naughty ancient Greek comedy, William Blake’s paintings for Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Salvador Dalí’s prolific illustrations for Don Quixote in 1946, the essays of Montaigne in 1947, Alice in Wonderland in 1969, and Romeo & Juliet in 1975.