Natalie Frank’s interpretations of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in gouache and chalk pastel aren’t exactly suitable for small children. In “Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm,” on view at the Blanton Museum through November 15, Frank’s drawings take inspiration from the unexpurgated, unfiltered original fables collected and set down by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm between 1812 and 1857. The earliest editions of the stories, which were intended for an adult readership, include Rapunzel getting pregnant following the prince’s visits, Cinderella’s stepsisters severing their own toes to fit their feet into the glass slipper (and later having their eyes pecked out by birds), Snow White’s own mother— not stepmother—planning to murder her, and other accounts of equal brutality and horror.
Frank’s colorfully phantasmagoric renderings of these oft-told tales, as well as more obscure ones (All Fur, The Lettuce Donkey), suggest chaos mixed with sexuality, mystery, and the after-effects of personal violence and trauma. “I don’t know that these are illustrations, but kind of pictured literature,” says Frank. “I’d never done a cohesive set of drawings before; this was new on a couple of fronts.”
“Natalie's drawings are incredibly beautiful; they just point to all those complexities.” —Veronica Roberts, Blanton Museum curator
Frank, an Austin native who moved away at age 10, has long been based in New York, where the Grimm exhibition was organized at The Drawing Center this spring (the Blanton is its first touring stop). After solo exhibitions in New York, LA, Chicago, and Zurich, Frank is thrilled to finally be able to show her art in her hometown. “I’ve known Natalie’s work for a little while,” says Blanton curator Veronica Roberts. “This particular body of work is really exceptional. She’s primarily a painter; this is an anomaly for her—and this is some of her best work.”
As Frank points out, “These tales really belonged to the realm of women—whether they were at the loom, in the home, in the nursery, or at the well; these are the stories they told one another. Because I consider myself a feminist, and most of my work deals with images of the body from a woman’s perspective, that was very compelling to me.” Frank wanted to focus on the true humanity of these stories. “I don’t shock; that seems like a cheap, easy trick, and these stories are so deceptively simple, but complex,” she says. “They’re so funny and fun and playful that I tried to get [across that feeling] in the work.”
Adds Roberts: “[It’s] the more messy editions of the stories that are really interesting; Natalie’s drawings point to all those complexities.” Through November 15 at the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas, 200 E. MLK Jr. Blvd., 512-471-7324