Surrealist top selling artist Peter Smith, alongside his wife Jayne have recently launched their latest collection ‘Lost Alice’ celebrating 150 years of a cultural icon.
Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s famous children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871), the series of six new oil paintings and four sculptures feature familiar characters including Alice, the Hatter, the Caterpillar and the White Rabbit.
Yet this ‘Wonderland’ is also unfamiliar – a place that is now under threat from Alice’s last visit when she left behind seven sins from the mortal world. The collection, which tells its own story of Alice’s adventures, has taken the acclaimed artist 9 months, 36kg of clay, 36 maquettes and over 5,000 individually made objects to create.
Peter Smith, who was signed by Birmingham-based fine art publishers Washington Green in 2005
is also writing a novel called ‘Lost Alice – Wonderland Unwound’ to accompany his new collection.
Originally from Mansfield, Nottingham, Peter Smith is a self-taught artist with a background in the fashion, media and advertising industry that feeds into his artwork.
Alongside his wife Jayne, he is best known as the creator of one of the UK’s most collectable artwork brands – the famous striped rotund characters called the ‘Impossimals’.
Jayne, also a highly collected artist has produced two artworks depicting Alice’s descent into Wonderland in her signature style, which exudes fun and humour.
I caught up with Peter and Jane over tea to discuss their latest collaboration.
Q: We know ‘Lost Alice’ is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s famous children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871) but when was that all important light bulb moment that took you back to wonderland?
Wonderland is always there for everyone, sometimes you just need to know where to look. We are both still the mental age we were when we were children and you can always find Wonderland if you hold on to that childhood feeling and never lose it in the first place although you may know it under a different name – innocence.
Q: ‘Lost Alice’ is just as if Lewis Caroll has written it himself in the Victorian era, how did you manage to keep that same style?
We love language, it’s so very versatile and one can write in t’style o’a pirate me lass and pretend ye be takin’ me cup o’ grog at yer own peril or you can easily drift into a little Alan Bennet and notice the small things like the two slices of toast, uncut and a little burnt around the edges that looked disappointed. I turned them over to check both sides and fumbled with the small packets of melted butter from my plastic chair. The knife was dirty and a thin film of grease covered the once clean table. I ran my finger across the cheap finish noting with some distress that it felt gritty with the dirt of others, the dirt of life my mother might say.
But really you can beat method writing so we started out by living like Victorians; firstly I became chimney sweep and wriggled up many a flue before selling hot roasted chestnuts a penny a bag on the streets of London and ending up a Laudanum addict whilst Jayne sold flowers and plied her trade down the docks for a tuppence of gin. Eventually, we picked up the Alice patter and placed ourselves firmly in Wonderland. Jayne dressed as the Hatter and I had a pretty dress as Alice.
Q: Did you need permission from Disney for any part of ‘Lost Alice”
No, the original Alice In Wonderland including the rather charming illustrations on which Lost Alice takes its influence from drifted out of copyright many, many years ago.
Q: Alice’s size keeps changing, sometimes too big sometimes too small. Imagine yourself too big and too small what would you do?
We sometimes imagine the very same thing although in reality, things aren’t half as amazing. I once drank copious amounts of wine to test the Alice theory and although I didn’t get small the ground did indeed come closer I ended up having a conversation with a mouse. Later I ate cake after cake just like Alice with no immediate growing effects, it was more of a steady ‘inflation’ although it took me six weeks at a slimming club to shrink back to normal.
Q: If you had a world of your own?
It would consist of a dash of Wonka, a splash of Mary Poppins mixed up with a comforting dose of Snowhite but retain the nonsense that is Wonderland, in fact, it already exists; we call it our studio which is indeed delightfully bonkers.
Q: What nonsense would you ask Peter and Jane Smith if you asking the questions?
If Peter had six dodo’s and Jayne had three no-no’s how many dodo’s and no-no’s would Peter and Jayne need to make an oh-no?
Q: When was the last time you were late?
It depends on how you define ‘late’; we are never late because we never agree on a date to
be late as a date needs a time but as we don’t have any time it makes it extremely difficult to be late unless we really try.
Q: What would you do if you saw a bottle with “drink me” on?
Why, I would shake the bottles hand for being so bold, if only all bottles could follow this shining example of selflessness the world would be a better place. I do love a few forthright objects, it makes life so much easier to navigate. For one, politicians could have the label ‘kick me’ which I’m sure would be highly appreciated.
Q: Do you have anyone that resembles tweedle dee & tweedle dum in your life right now?
Tweedle Do & Tweedle Don’t, our two new variations come from a land of do’s and don’ts. The do’s do and the don’t, don’t but moan about wanting to do, do’s but don’t do’s at all. It’s very simple, most people are do’s or don’ts, don’ts don’t do and do’s don’t do don’ts just like the do’s and don’ts we have in our lives. So after that simple explanation, the complex answer to your question is yes.
Q: It’s a golden afternoon, you go for a pleasant walk and a pleasant talk with Jane. Firstly which way do you go and secondly what do you talk about?
You go right, as you know you cannot go wrong going right unless of course, you are in a place called Leftonia, then you can get arrested for any right doings and as two wrongs don’t make a right or an iceberg fails to make a nightlight we find that going right is just right much to our delight. We often talk about the time Jayne made a sausage roll for me, it wasn’t difficult, it only needed a little push and we are both easily amused.
Q: What do you have to say about a book with no pictures?
Ahhh, the old ‘Alice Quote’ question to see if I have read the book, a subtle ploy no doubt to elicit a similar response. Books without pictures are annoying, that is why Jayne and myself take a pair of scissors to the library and distribute appropriate cut-outs to picture less books. I remember once cutting out the entire illustrations from the Encyclopaedia Britannica and distributing them through Barbara Cartland novels. You should see the look of delight on readers faces when they reach a gripping passage such as ‘”I love you, my darling!” he said. “I love you so overwhelmingly, so completely, that it is going to take me a lifetime to tell you how much you mean to me.” followed by a picture of a chimpanzee smoking a cigar. Priceless.
Q: Describe your very own unique “mad hatters party”
Sixty-two badgers wearing boots carrying a twenty-two foot goodie-laden table in the middle of a forest with half naked exploding penguins emerging from teapots carrying cherry topped cupcakes. Oooh! I thought this was Google! My bad…
Q: When can we expect the next chapter of “Lost Alice’
We are releasing a Chapter from the book every month online but if you are waiting for the next chapter of paintings then that will be a while away yet. First, we must lose our minds and spiral into borderline insanity to skirt around the fringes of madness, only then will we see the peculiar visions that make our work. Well, it either that or a bottle of wine and I fear I hear a glass calling to us from the cupboard…drink me..drink me.drink!
Q: As a top selling artist you’ve proved nothing is impossible. The launch of “Lost Alice” being your latest impeccable work. But where do you go from here now the bar has been set so high?
We bring big stools, pull them up to the new bar and pour ourselves a little drinky.
Peter Smith’s ‘Lost Alice’ collection is now available to buy from Castle Fine Art, ICC, Broad Street, B1 2EA. Prices start from £295 for sculpture and from £375 for canvas on board limited edition prints. Pieces can also be bought from Castle Galleries’ network of high street
stores across the UK or online.