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Die Weiße Ratte

Die Weiße Ratte by Chandra Brooks.  All images are artwork and copyrighted and produced by Chandra Brooks.

Die Weiße Ratte began as the Chinese language adaptation, but I moved the style over to the German version when Frank Verbeek, a librarian at the Openbare Bibliotheek in Amsterdam, told me that what I was doing reminded him of the work of Lotte Reiniger. Lotte Reiniger is an historically important female artist. Reiniger’s work is fairly obscure although she has been credited with being the mother of animation. Frank gave me a copy of Prince Achmed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXxVUznk1Mo, the oldest surviving animated film in history. Although her name isn’t well known today, the world is reminded of her work in the influence she had on Eric Carle’s work. The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into at least 40 languages and Carle was also influenced by Lotte Reiniger. I grew up on Eric Carle as did my children. His work is further example of the dissemination of botanical information in how this book has been used to promote healthy eating in children. My favorite Lotte Reiniger animation is Prince Achmed in which she reinvents bits from 1001 Arabian Nights with her new media similar to how Henri Pourrat also reinvented the Arabian Nights.

From the start, I’d wanted to work with light and shadow. Everything we do creates light as well as darkness. The pages of La Rate Blanche shine with gold and metallics that are set off by pale, subdued earthy matte backgrounds. The blinding Sun and stars bounce off of cerulean skies. We need a bit of darkness to be able to see the light, so I love working with contrasts. Working on paper to create illuminated manuscript art is only one phase of my work with light. Die Weiße Ratte is my first big experiment with creating light cuttings. I’ve been working with these in phases.

These “light cuttings” began as a form of collaging with open negative space behind the objects and contours. (image)

Then they became small cut-outs of simple shapes illustrating scenes of life. The content was still very personal; I worked with events I wanted to document like a pregnancy or wandering around an abandoned castle with my sons in the rain when they were young boys. These were expressive, but the techniques employed were still more cryptic than I wanted them to be. I also disliked that they had to be attached and dependent upon their placement on paper. (image)

When I switched from working with basic x-acto style blades and moved on to scalpels, the work began moving in the direction I had in my mind’s eye. From one piece to the next, the clarity began to develop into negative space/light transmission paths which are never EXACTLY what I intended, but that’s the nature of art. Now I’m in love with some Japanese knives and blades that are occasionally frustrating because even these don’t do: exactly what I need, the way I want. I’m constantly having to alter my technique and this is frustrating, but how I grow. Cutting small, intricately flowing lines out of paper is a difficult task and paper likes to rip once cut so the interaction between: the original drawing, hand-eye coordination, possible degrees of hand/eye mobility/rotation and losing control of the stroke make the work of creating light cuttings arduous and unpredictable. This can be frustrating during the process because they are handcrafted, so each takes weeks or months to create. Sometimes pieces fall off afterwards because of miscalculations and they never ever look like what I expected or thought I wanted. They’re unpredictable, yet they yield wonderful results which make me bite my tongue at all the moments of frustration before the cutting disappears and only shadow remains.

I’m a professional artist. I’m practical, structured and disciplined, but I think like an artist which means most of my thoughts are so far out of the box that to me they seem normal although others are occasionally baffled by all the simple things I miss. The cuttings are only a phase of the light cutting. What I work for in creating these is a negative that adapts to do what I want. What I want is to create moving shadows that can be animated, montaged and manipulated in unforeseen ways. This isn’t silhouette animation. A light cutting is a shadow that changes when natural lighting shifts. Sometimes it’s there and at other times they disappear. You never know exactly where they will show up because of how they’re cast.

I love the shadows, but I also love the mixed media I create from them. It’s not exactly the same as what Lotte Reiniger or Eric Carle have done, but to me it’s a natural and obvious progression.

Rubbings are another example of mixed media that results from light cuttings. I’ve never been punk or goth, but I adore cemeteries. Wherever I go, I visit the graveyards and take pictures. I particularly love the Medieval effigies. From these I got into making rubbings. The first rubbing I began playing with was of an effigy I created of The King and The Queen from Die Weiße Ratte. Children’s techniques are usually wonderful, but their often offered inferior materials to work with. As a child I loved making rubbings of leaves in autumn, but they were usually too flat so I added paint. The rubbings I make now combine a variety of printing techniques.