Exhibition in Walsall with The House Of Fairy Tales
The Woodies, a wordless children’s book for adults and one of Julie Vermeille’s significant projects, conjures up an atmosphere simultaneously light and naïve, and dark and ironic. The figures in each illustration radiate a seraphic quality; a tender, warm floating that takes us back to the enchanting simplicity of childhood. Yet at the same time, disquieting adult themes structure each illustration: isolation, alienation, the unbearable limitations of human communication. Lightness does not get in the way of darkness, and naivety and irony happily coexist. In fact, the latter are in need of the former in order to have the impact they do.
The irony sometimes leads into comedy, a notable feature of Vermeille’s work. Some of the warmth, the seraphic quality, the artless simplicity of The Woodies illustrations boils over into caricature, irony, and absurdity. Of course, the warmth and the simplicity are not thereby lost. Both elements are present. In one or two illustrations one senses a character at once loving and ironic – a nonsensical combination, unless it is humorously understood.
The power of the illustrations is enhanced by an accomplished sense of form and symmetry. Spatial relations, the organisation of the intervals between objects in The Woodies, are represented brilliantly. The result is a lean, near-painful beauty, partially reminiscent of our responses to primitive cave paintings. In Passing On, another children’s book for adults and a meditation on childhood memories and the relations between our past and present, Vermeille displays a capacity to create a space-atmosphere. In one illustration, the figures at the table seem to be suspended in space. Their distance from us, and from one another, seems ambiguous, as do their proportions. The special tentativeness in relation to space invites us to dwell on the dimension of time. As they sit at the table, time passes.
There is a strong relation between space as a system of intervals between masses and intervals in music. On the basis of the considerations about form and symmetry alone, it is possible to see Vermeille’s point when she describes her work as inspired by music.
The pleasure and illumination a viewer may extract from Vermeille’s work is not unconnected with a sense of truthfulness. She seems both pessimistic and optimistic about truth. She is pessimistic as she thinks that glimpsing the truth can be more than difficult to deal with. She is optimistic as she thinks there is a point to, even an ecstasy in, getting hold of the truth. More fundamentally, she is optimistic as she refuses pessimism about finding any truth through her art. The truth she or her viewers find may lie in a better sense of who we are, and a deeper understanding of the way our childhood and adult selves relate to one another.
Vermeille is a young artist of notable imagination, backed up by a robust controlling intellect. She displays impressive craftsmanship and an accomplished facility for executing her concepts and ideas in practice. The results are organic, intellectually stimulating and aesthetically refreshing works which speak to everyone, and especially those who believe that having a sense of who we are, a sense of the thread that holds our lives together, requires a sense of the way our past and present, our childhood and adulthood, are related. We may return to the question of music: just as the opening bars of a musical composition will often be imbued with what is yet to come, our childhood selves anticipate what becomes of us in adulthood in ways that we often forget or fail to articulate. We may add that Vermeille’s work stands up exceedingly well to reflection.