The Austin Chronicle

'Alice in Wonderland': Drawn down the rabbit hole again

By Barry Pineo, December 14, 2007, Arts

At the base of a large tree, on a seemingly massive mushroom, sits a caterpillar, all hot-blue malevolence and thin, white horns. Body curving downward, he holds a smoking hookah away from him like an extension of his arms. Below him at the base of the mushroom, on a twig springing from the ground, stands a girl in a pale, soft, blue dress who seems to float in the air, her long full blond hair falling neatly at the base of her neck. One of close to 50 pieces that will appear in the Wally Workman Gallery's group show "Alice in Wonderland," Leslie Sealey's oil is most striking for what it does not reveal: Because she stands with her back to us, we cannot see the young girl's face.

Twice a year at her gallery on West Sixth, Wally Workman hosts group shows with the artists she represents. Last year, for the first time, Workman did a show for the holidays. It was titled "Red," and each artist did a painting with a little, a lot, or no red in it at all. At around the same time, Workman met local mixed-media artist Sheri Tornatore.

"I've been into literature for a long time," says Tornatore, "and thus my obsession with Lewis Carroll. People who are Lewis Carroll fans tend to be pretty hardcore. There's a pretty big cult. I'm not really qualified to be in the cult, because there's a big Lewis Carroll society in the world that I'm not a part of. But I think people who tend to be into Lewis Carroll tend to be very, very into him, if not over the top." Tornatore decided to do a series of sculptures based on Carroll's perennially popular characters. "I constructed them from thrifted items. I finished them about eight years ago but never showed them. Lewis Carroll was a mathematician, and time is a big issue for Alice. So I went around to thrift stores for a couple of years, gathering different teapots that I wanted to use and different clocks. They're built up, so some of them look like they might fall over. Sort of precariously balanced."

Workman saw Tornatore's sculptures and found the theme for her next Christmas show, asking each of her artists to participate. Most of them have, contributing Wonderland-inspired images in pastel, acrylic, watercolor, and collage, as well as oil and 3-D mixed media. "It's a great theme," says Tornatore. "It's incredibly universal. Have you ever met anyone who doesn't know the story or wasn't touched by it somehow? I've seen one piece that Wally's going to use – you just see a little girl's legs, like she's upside-down and falling, like maybe falling into the hole. That's my interpretation of it. That's a neat piece."

"Alice in Wonderland" is on view through Jan. 6, at Wally Workman Gallery, 1202 W. Sixth. For more information, visit

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