A chance online find led me to explore the work of a Leicester-born artist, the late David Delamare. Based for most of his life in Portland, Oregon, he created a hauntingly beautiful reimagining of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
A very limited number of copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland featuring art by the late David Delamare, signed by Wendy Ice, the book’s designer, co-editor, and widow of the artist, are currently available from Bud’s Books.
The book, born as an idea in 2008, was originally published thanks to an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2013, a true labour of love on the part of the artist and partner, as Wendy details here, and proved a crowning achievement for David.
Tragically, David died unexpectedly of natural causes in September, 2016, just days after the book was finally completed and approved for printing, after its first release was pulped, a victim of printer errors. He didn’t live to see what an icon the book has become for many Alice fans.
This deluxe volume, beautifully and hauntingly illustrated throughout, is very similar to the storybooks that were read by Victorian children – with a cloth cover, embossed foil titles, sewn binding, and a full color overlay on the front. It comes in a slipcase with a sewn-in ribbon bookmark.
(Copies of the book are also available from the official David Delamare web site, but, currently, the Portland-based company, Bad Monkey Productions, are not delivering internationally).
“In 2008, after painting an image for an invitational Alice in Wonderland exhibition, I found myself haunted by the characters from the book,” David himself said of the book. “The entire cast of Wonderland characters began to shift in my mind. Specifically, they began taking on animal masks, or perhaps, removing their human ones. The Mad Hatter, for instance appeared as a baboon and the Queen of Hearts as a warthog. Seeing those strange flashes, I was compelled to document them and the book project was born.”
David Delamare was born in Leicester, but lived most of his life in the United States. He began painting in childhood and never had another job, except a brief stint as a blues guitarist. He lived in the bohemian Hawthorne District of Portland, Oregon with his wife and print publisher Wendy Ice, two rabbits, and a giant tortoise named Pip.
David worked in a variety of media including etching, acrylic, and gouache, but in later years painted almost exclusively with oil on canvas. His dream-like paintings have appeared on book and album covers, in television programmes (such as Marsalis on Music) and in numerous films.
In all, this hugely-talented artist illustrated eleven books: a retrospective of his work, nine children’s titles (including two of his own original stories and a collaboration with singer-songwriter Carly Simon) and an adult alphabet book titled Animerotics: A Forbidden Cabaret in 26 Acts with a story co-authored by Wendy Ice. But it his unique version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for which he is best remembered and, probably, most admired.
“I had long been a fan of the tale. It was, along with Wind in The Willows and Peter Pan, among my favourite imaginative works. But I had never been tempted to illustrate it. ”
“Illustrating Alice in Wonderland is a bit like agreeing to play Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. The quintessential version has already been done. The best you can hope for is to provide the audience with a new lens, a personal one that in its subjectivity might give new entry into a familiar but complex landscape.”
“Too intimidated to take on the book, but unable to ignore the call of the characters, I determined to paint just a few images. This was the fairytale equivalent of stepping tentatively into the woods, only to realise that the trees had closed behind me and there was no turning back.”
I’m sure that there are many out there who are so very glad that he didn’t.
Delamare paintings have been purchased by museums and have been featured several times in the annual Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art as well as in various art compilations such as David Riche’s Art of Faery and Ditte und Giovanni Bandini’s Das Buch Der Elfen und Fen.
A great fan of theatre, David was particularly fond of William Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Samuel Beckett, and was very pleased to design sets and costume concepts for the American premier of Trevor Nunn’s Peter Pan. He was also a passionate film buff, so he enjoyed creating production art for Warner Brother’s Animated Pictures and Francis Ford Coppola.
When David died, he had completed illustrations for several new books, which are being completed by his widow and publisher, Wendy Ice.
• More information about David can be found by visiting his official website at www.daviddelamare.com. Note that when this story was first published in September 2020, Bad Monkey Productions are currently not shipping internationally, based in US) | Facebook | Twitter
All art copyright David Delamare