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On Thursday night, Snow White — who’ll be the star this year of two upcoming movies, Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman— had her first opening of 2012 with a show of goth-inspired, Disneyesque watercolors by artist Camille Rose Garcia. The exhibit, which debuted at the Michael Kohn Gallery in mid-city Los Angeles, features works that can also be seen in a new illustrated book of the Brothers Grimm fairytale, just published by Harper Design ($14.99).
Her watercolor works – set in surrealist sickly landscapes with branches dripping with moss and alien forest creatures — may seem like a twisted take on the children’s tale, but in fact, according to Garcia, she’s simply going back and mining often overlooked aspects of the story. “I feel like it’s important for me to add back that kind of darkness that was in the original folk tales,” says Garcia. “There are actual scenes that did not appear in the Disney version and they are usually edited out. For instance, the Queen asked the Hunter to go kill Snow White and get her lungs and liver to bring back for her to eat. So he goes out to kill her but he can’t bear it so he casts her out in the forest and slaughters a pig – in some versions it’s a bear – and brings the lungs and the liver to the Queen. In the movie, he brings the Queen her heart.”
The Queen also dies a different death in the Walt Disney film than in the story. In the Disney version, she falls off a cliff and is crushed by a boulder. In the fairy tale, “they make her this pair of iron shoes and she has to dance over a fire until she dies,” says Garcia.
Garcia, the daughter of a painter and a filmmaker, grew up in Huntington Beach. “My mom just retired last year. She did mural paintings, mainly commercial work for restaurants and things of that nature like Acapulco restaurants. I helped her out when I was 14,” says the artist, who now lives in Northern California. When Garcia was fresh out of Otis Parsons in the late 1990s, she got her start doing posters and stickers for bands and pirate radio stations and soon after became part of L.A.’s lowbrow art movement, sometimes called pop surrealism, which combines influences from punk, underground comics and street culture.
The artist did the illustrations for a Harper Design publication of Alice in Wonderland last year that became a New York Times best-seller after it came out around the same time as Tim Burton‘s film take on the story. Garcia says she had started thinking about a Snow White book long before she knew the two movies were in the works. “I’m a huge Walt Disney fan of like the golden years of cartoons from the 30s and 40s and the Disney version of Snow White is one of my favorite movies,” says Garcia. “About a year and a half ago I thought I’m going to illustrate the book and my publisher Harper Collins, they don’t like to do anything unless it’s tied to something already going on. Harper wanted me to do Little Red Riding Hood. I guess there was a movie coming out of that. And then literally then there were these two Snow White movies coming out and my editor said, ‘Let’s go ahead and do it.’ It was kind of perfect. It’s completely unofficial.”
So why so much Snow White now? “It does look like a Snow White zeitgeist. I do think these are fairy tales that have been passed on for hundreds of years. It’s like we as a culture keep retelling these same folk tales. It becomes a collective symbolism. I was researching all these different versions. There’s actually a Mayan hieroglyph with all these dwarves and they have a magic mirror and they are drinking from cups. Dwarves have always been associated with alchemy. The reoccurring theme in so many of these tales – from Narnia to Harry Potter — is that the parents are killed, the children are orphaned and they are cast out into the forest.”
For another interesting take on the fairy tale, Garcia recommends watching on YouTube the short film by pioneering animator Max Fleischer featuring Betty Boop as Snow White. “That one is completely surreal,” says Garcia.
Garcia’s works are currently on view at the Michael Kohn Gallery, 8071 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles.
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Tracee Ellis Ross