‘Little Red Riding Hood’s Cloak’ – Smashing the Stereotypes?

'Doll and Pink Boris', 2011, colour Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken, part of design for 'Red Riding Hood's Cloak' fabric pattern

‘Doll and Pink Boris’, 2011, colour Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken, part of design for ‘Red Riding Hood’s Cloak’ fabric pattern

Little girls, this seems to say,
Never stop upon your way.
Never trust a stranger-friend;
No one knows how it will end.
As you’re pretty, so be wise;
Wolves may lurk in every guise.
Handsome they may be, and kind,
Gay, or charming never mind!
Now, as then, ‘tis simple truth—
Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth!

Charles Perrault, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge,1697

"Les Contes de Perrault" dessins par Gustave Doré. Paris: J. Hetzel, 1867

“Les Contes de Perrault” dessins par Gustave Doré. Paris: J. Hetzel, 1867

‘Red Riding Hood’s Cloak’ 2012, was conceived for the ‘The Woodcutter’s Cottage’ Solo Exhibition shown at the Customs House Gallery, South Shields and The Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate.  This piece focuses on the interpretation of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, as a parable to sexual maturity.  An ancient oral fairy tale, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ was first published by Charles Perrault as ‘Le Petit Chaperon Rouge’ in 1697.  ‘Rotkäppchen’ written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812 remains the most popular version to date. However, a different oral tale registered as far back as 1st century AD, ‘The Wolf and the Kids’ is now thought to be the originator of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ on the evolutionary tree of Fairy Tales, creating a separate branch for this most famous story.

"Les Contes de Perrault" dessins par Gustave Doré. Paris: J. Hetzel, 1867

“Les Contes de Perrault” dessins par Gustave Doré. Paris: J. Hetzel, 1867

Recent studies by anthropologist Dr Jamie Terhani of Durham University, suggest that ‘Little Red Riding Hood‘, which was once thought of as a tale that originated “in Chinese oral tradition”and “spread west, along the Silk Route” eventually creating the European versions of ‘The Wolf and the Kids’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is now thought to have derived from European oral traditions, “and not vice versa”.  Dr Jamie Terhani, ‘Science on the trail of The Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood’, Durham University News November 2013

"Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein", vintage German postcard, Artist's collection

“Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein”, vintage German postcard, 1915, Artist’s collection

My first fairy tale book illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone first published 1967

My first fairy tale book illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, published 1967

Often considered as precautionary and educational fables orated by our forefathers to both adults and children, fairy tales have also long since been scrutinised by the likes of Freud and Jung for their psychoanalytic qualities.  Freud compared fairy tales to dreams, revelations of the unconscious mind, exposing our hidden fears and desires.  Freud’s all encompassing quote succinctly captures his opinion of man:

“Those who love fairy-tales do not like it when people speak of the innate tendencies in mankind toward aggression, destruction, and, in addition, cruelty. God has made them in his own image, with his own perfections; no one wants to be reminded how hard it is to reconcile the undeniable existence-in spite of all the protestations of Christian Science-of evil with His omnipotence and supreme goodness.”  Freud, 1856-1939

Illustration by Hermann Vogel of Wolf slain by Huntsman

Illustration for Grimm’s ‘Rotkappchen’, 1893, by German illustrator Hermann Vogel (1854-1921), Wolf slain by Huntsman

Jung however treads a longer, deeper path, developing the idea of ‘Collective Unconcious’, the ‘inborn’ unconscious mind, common to a collective species such as man, originating from the ancestral organisation of shared experiences, and naming ‘pre-existent’ unconscious forms as ‘Archetypes’.

“The concept of archetypes as the mode of expression of the collective unconscious is discussed. In addition to the purely personal unconscious hypothesised by Freud, a deeper unconscious level is felt to exist. This deeper level manifests itself in universal archaic images expressed in dreams, religious beliefs, myths, and fairy tales. The archetypes, as unfiltered psychic experience, appear sometimes in their most primitive and naive forms (in dreams), sometimes in a considerably more complex form due to the operation of conscious elaboration (in myths).”  Jung, 1875-1961

Sarah Patterson, 'The Company of Wolves', Neil Jordan, 1984

Film still of Sarah Patterson, ‘The Company of Wolves’, Neil Jordan, Palace Productions, 1984

So in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, archetypes such as the the protagonist’s red hood have been interpreted as the Dawn or blood; the wolf often symbolises a man in various guises from lover to sexual predator.  The cutting open of the wolf by the huntsman is sometimes interpreted as rebirth.

'The Bloody Chamber', Angela Carter, Vintage 2007

‘The Bloody Chamber’, Angela Carter, Vintage 2007, Artist’s own copy

Angela Carter’s book ‘The Bloody Chamber’, 1979 presents a wonderful version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ in the form of the short story ‘The Company of Wolves’, considering the ‘sexual awakening’ concept.  Neil Jordan’s somewhat dated but nevertheless beautifully filmed and at times epically scored adaptation, bearing the same name as Carter’s story, ‘The Company of Wolves’, 1984, Palace Productions, realises luscious archetypal Fairy Tale imagery.

'The Company of Wolves' Neil Jordan, 1984, Special Edition DVD 2005

‘The Company of Wolves’ Neil Jordan, 1984, Special Edition DVD 2005, Artist’s own copy

“See!  Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf.” ‘The Company of Wolves’, Angela Carter, 1979

'The Company of Wolves', Neil Jordan, 1984

‘The Company of Wolves’, set photograph of Sarah Patterson and wolf, Neil Jordan, Palace Productions, 1984

Inspired by the aforementioned research, I created the pattern for ‘Red Riding Hood’s Cloak’ in the form of two colour Biro drawings.  The first drawing ‘Doll and Pink Boris’, 2012 incorporated a vintage Bradley Doll, circa 1960s/1970s purchased from Retro, High Bridge, Newcastle and a semi-wild Sika deer my sister and I came across in the forests of Dumfries and Galloway in 2011 named Boris by the local foresters, who I photographed as he broke through the pine trees into a clearing.  The heavily painted face of the doll represents girls who are reaching sexual maturity experimenting with make-up and other facets associated with ‘growing-up’.  Boris epitomises the imagery of innocence, the gentleness of a young deer, ‘the quiet before the storm’ of sexual awakening, the loss of innocence but the gaining of experience.  His fluorescent colouring signifies the stereotyping of girls with the colour pink.  A recent movement has seen groups such as Pink Stinks.org.uk campaign against the stereotyping ‘Pinkification’ of girls, felt to have a detrimental affect on both girls and boys, limiting the development of young girls.

'Blue Boris', 2012, blue Biro drawing, study for 'The Woodcutter's Quilt'

‘Blue Boris’, 2012, blue Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken, study for ‘The Woodcutter’s Quilt’

In response to this campaign I must admit that one of the first toys I remember was a race-track with racing cars, a predecessor of ‘Scalextric, my father bought me for my second Christmas, which I loved.  I don’t remember many pink toys in my repertoire of play; I transcended to echelons of tube-train driver in London as an adult, an experience I am very grateful for.  The toys and books I had as a child, as well as influential people and experiences, gave me an appetite for a variety of different interests across the stereotypical gender spectrum allowing me to see things beyond gender specifics.  The questioning by such organisations of ‘Pinkification’, I affirmatively note whilst buying toys for children in my life, is perhaps a distinctly important issue in forging a more positive development for young girls nowadays.

'Brown Bunny', 2012 colour Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Brown Bunny’, 2012 colour Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken, pattern design for cloak fabric

The second drawing ‘Brown Bunny’, 2012, depicts a  doe rabbit and is both a symbol of juvenility and reproduction . Rabbits reach sexual maturity between 3-8 months.  The tender age of the rabbit in the drawing highlights girls beginning puberty as early as 8 years of age, deeming such girls extremely vulnerable, where recent years have seen an upsurge in the UK of child and teenage pregnancies.  In the drawing the rabbit miscarries from a small wound on its side, denoting the vulnerability of all women to miscarriage.

'Red Riding Hood's Cloak, 2012, by Jane Lee McCracken detail of cloak pattern

‘Red Riding Hood’s Cloak, 2012, by Jane Lee McCracken detail of cloak pattern

Once made, the drawings were then scanned, printed on to transfer paper and cut out individually by hand, ironed onto calico, creating a unique fabric, then the fabric was cut out and sewn together to form the cloak.  The use of calico as the cloak fabric symbolises the emergence of a design in the making – calico prototypes are created in the fashion industry before a final garment is made.  They are raw and experimental just like young adults as they emerge from adolescence.  The hem of the cloak is left raw and frayed.

'Red Riding Hood's Cloak', The Mercer Art Gallery, 2013 next to my Grandmother's bed and 'The Woodcutter's Quilt'

‘Red Riding Hood’s Cloak’, The Mercer Art Gallery, 2013 next to my Grandmother’s bed with ‘The British Moth Throw’ and ‘The Woodcutter’s Quilt’

The vision for the cloak thereafter was to be hung from the ceiling of the gallery on a simple white wooden coat-hanger with the hood raised next to the installation of my own Grandmother’s Jacobean bed, circa 1940.  In both galleries the cloak drifted of its own violition in a ghostly, gently animated fashion, due to transient air flowing through the galleries.

'Red Riding Hood's Cloak' next to 'The Wolf's House', 2012, by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Red Riding Hood’s Cloak’ next to ‘The Wolf’s House’, 2012, by Jane Lee McCracken

Finally the erect hood not only alludes to the obvious symbolism of male sexuality within the tale of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ but also denotes a suggestion of menace.  Reminiscent of the white cloaks worn during the religious wars and crusades’ of the middle ages, this brings us back full circle to what Freud wrote about man – “our innate tendencies… towards aggression, destruction and cruelty”.  One could argue further that, much of the aggression perpetuated by humankind in the form of war and destruction, has been led by the male of our species.  Females are mostly inclined to be far less aggressive than males.  Are we therefore back to Jung’s “Collective Unconscious” as to an explanation for human aggression, is it part of the unconscious?  Primo Levi said in his answer to the question posed by members of his readership ‘How can the Nazis’ fanatical hatred of the Jews be explained?’ in the afterword of ‘This is a Man and The Truce’“Perhaps one cannot (understand), what is more one must not understand what happened, because to understand is almost to justify”. Surely, in the same light as Premo Levi’s advocation that there are no excuses for what happened, the ‘Collective Unconscious’, does not excuse the damage we cause one another or our environment due to the vast knowledge we have gathered at this stage in our species development?  Our ability to understand this destruction and the fact that we are able as a species to change our engraved behavioural patterns if we want to should advise the prohibition of our worst behaviour.  But perhaps that’s the conundrum with humans, ‘if we want to?’

Artist's own film still 'The Company of Wolves', 2007

Artist’s own film still ‘The Company of Wolves’, 2007

“Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything. No science will ever replace myth, and myth cannot be made out of any science. For it is not that “God” is a myth, but that myth is the revelation of a divine life in man.” Jung

'Doll and Pink Boris', 2011, colour Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken, part of design for 'Red Riding Hood's Cloak' fabric pattern

‘Doll and Pink Boris’, signed and numbered Archival Pigment Print

Luxurious Archival Pigment Prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308gsm from the original Biro drawing of ‘Doll and Pink Boris’ are especially crafted to order by one of the best printmaker’s in the UK Jack Lowe Studio and available from my website shop

'Brown Bunny', 2012 colour Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Brown Bunny’, signed and numbered Archival Pigment Print

Luxurious Archival Pigment Prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308gsm from the original Biro drawing of ‘Brown Bunny’ are especially crafted to order by one of the best printmaker’s in the UK Jack Lowe Studio and available from my website shop

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