These storytelling paintings reflect on the moral ambiguity and conflict found in children’s literature and how their narratives express timeless truths of human nature.
The characters are painted with realism, and set within a contemporary context, helping the viewer to empathise and identify with their dilemmas. Story telling, as a method of learning from the past whilst entertaining with fantasy, has long been used as a tool to teach wisdom to children. Children respond to visual narratives which activate the imagination, enhance learning and act as a catalyst for communication.
The exhibition itself, as a result of Vanessa’s own childhood love of illustrated storybooks, demonstrates and celebrates their power. Through painting Vanessa becomes a storyteller herself, retelling and questioning, adding to the cumulative and ever evolving body of stories that have been retold through different languages, cultures and ages. The series expresses a concern for the future of books: in a time where their impact is being diminished by an ever increasingly virtual world. Books – and also paintings – as lasting physical objects are passed down from generation to generation, transcending many more modern media formats that quickly become obsolete.
There is a juxtaposition between the harsh and bleak view of human nature, seen in some of the paintings, and the hope and humour found in others. Written to teach practical wisdom to both children and adults the morals praise and reward both virtue and deception as tools for survival. Garwood’s paintings show universal and sometimes uncomfortable truths about the human condition and how people treat each other.