Alice in Wonderland Artwork by Sigmar Polke: Analysis

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02/05/18 Arts Reference this

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Sigmar Polke was creating a wide range of surfaces with various materials, as shown in his 1971 artwork of Alice in Wonderland (Figure 1), which is paint printed on a store bought printed fabric, not a canvas. The artwork is divided into three images. The background shows a soccer game. In the middle and part of the bottom, you notice polka dots covering up some characters. In the front, the audience sees a transparent Alice talking to the smoking caterpillar, who is sitting on the mushroom. As you read Alice in Wonderland, [1] when Alice takes a bite out of the mushroom, she can either grow big or small. This shows that drugs may help the audience for a little bit, but then most of the time, drugs do not help you. Next to the Alice in Wonderland characters in the painting, there is a translucent soccer player. The mixed media art may have been here to tell people, the brain is on drugs when the audience is watching sports.

You notice the translucent characters more, since they appear larger than the soccer players. It gives you a depressed and lonely feeling because the translucent characters have no color. It is as though the characters have died and the brain is already dead. The characters being see through indicates they have lost their color; they have lost their soul. Despite having no color, we can still see them; this could indicate they are about to die and be forgotten. The colors of the soccer players are bold because it shows the drugs have sucked up their soul and are going to take over their life. There are splashes of red and yellow on the polka dots. This could mean that not only is your mind confused, it is also messed up.

The characters are there, but the audience can barely see them, indicating they could be becoming invisible. Notice how the polka dots only cover up the middle section and a little bit on the bottom because the artist probably wanted to make sure he was covering up Alice, to show her being curious and confused. Alice is watching the caterpillar smoking. The caterpillar faces away from the audience, possibly ashamed of smoking. The artwork has no symmetry. This shows it is not organized because it is supposed to give you confusion. I looked closely at the background and noticed there are many soccer balls, when you only need to play with one. There are also too many players for the soccer game. This is another indication of your brain on drugs with the side effect of having hallucinations and seeing things more than once. [2]Polke used polka dots. This is a pun of the artist’s name. Using the polka dots is a reference to Sigmar Polke’s use of the media and raster dots. The illustrations of the Alice in Wonderland characters are taken from the illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, which were used in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 Alice in Wonderland.

I feel like there is no true geometric form; even the panels do not look evenly rectangular. The only thing that looks like a perfect shape would be a sphere (the soccer ball). The audience cannot see all of the faces clearly and cannot see their emotion. Since they are hiding their faces, they are probably depressed from taking drugs. The caterpillar is the one taking the drugs. He merely sits, indicating drugs will make everyone lazy. Alice is the bystander, looking up at the caterpillar, wondering if she should try the drugs too.

There are no fixed meanings of Sigmar Polke having layers on the image; it shows too many situations. The audience can only interpret what Sigmar Polke is trying to tell us. The picture is showing me if we watch too much television, the mind is going to have a lot of hallucinations between reality and fiction. The Alice in Wonderland characters do not have enough light as the soccer players. The position of the characters are all different. Alice is standing, the caterpillar is sitting and the soccer players are playing. Do the Alice in Wonderland characters have more attention than the soccer players?

The pose may be jumpy, yet Sigmar Polke is giving everyone a warning. The use of color in the background and the characters being translucent reveal what happens to the life of a person on drugs; their emotions fade. By not showing the people’s facial expressions, there’s an indication they have sold their identity to drugs: they have lost their soul. Alice in Wonderland became quite a humorous visual correspondence using the projection of transparent images onto grounds composed of multiple, contrasting cloths. [3] Thus, the artwork, with its variations from mixed media, suggests the presence, in fabric, of reality versus fantasy with the mind on drugs.

839 words


Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Public Domain, 1898.

Davies, Denny, Hofrichter, Jacobs, Roberts, Simon. Janson’s History of Art . 8th. Edited by Sarah Touborg. Vol. 2. London: Laurence King Publishing , 2016: 1053.

Gintz, Claude. “Polke’s Slow Dissolve.” Art in America, December 1985: 107.

Larking, Matthew. artscape Japan.2006.  

(Larking n.d.)

Figure 1 Sigmar Polke, Alice in Wonderland. 1971. Mixed Media on fabric strips, 10’6”x 8’6 ¾” ( 3.2×1.6m). Private Collection, Cologne [4]

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[1] Carroll Alice in Wonderland Public Domain 1898   

[2] Davies, Denny, Hofrichter, Jacobs, Roberts and Simon, Janson’s History of Art (Laurence King Publishing, 2016), 1053.

[3] Claude Gintz , “Polke’s Slow Dissolve,” Art in America, December 1985, 107.

[4] paintersonpaintings. files. wordpress

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