IT MIGHT seem a tall order to portray a story through visual art. Without the space of a novel, short story or poem, scope to construct and convey a narrative seems limited.
And yet great artists over the generations have managed to pull it off – whether through a minimal “show rather than tell” approach or a more self-explanatory, detailed scene. This perennial challenge forms the basis of a current exhibition by the Fabula collective at Hove Museum and Art Gallery.
The group, consisting of 20 graduates of the MA Sequential Design and Illustration course at the University of Brighton, concerns itself with studying and subverting traditional narrative forms. The centrepiece of the exhibition is The Story Cabinet, a 3D installation that amalgamates various folk tales – a collaboration between a number of Fabula’s members. A section of it can be seen in the picture top left.
“There are a lot of traditional elements involved in the installation,” says Juliette Rajak, a Brighton-based illustrator who recently released a children’s book called Ellie’s Invisible World (bottom right picture). “Cinderella and witches, for instance, are woven into the design.”
Fabula used the conventions of fairy tales as a platform to explore the structures of storytelling, just as many authors over the years have adapted classic folk stories. Much of Canadian writer Margaret Attwood’s work, for example, is inspired by gothic stories such as Red Riding Hood.
“Everyone likes being scared,” Rajak surmises. “All of the classic children’s illustrators had a scary and unexpected element running through their work. Our exhibition reflects that. The essence of storytelling comes from fairy tales. We studied but also subverted those stories; we wanted to ask questions about what a story is.”
A former art director for an advertising company, Rajak has a lot of experience in creating storyboards and plots – albeit in a drastically different world to her current work. “An advert is essentially a story. If there is a good idea behind it, it will work. Even though I’m an illustrator the narrative comes first.”
All of the members of Fabula come from contrasting artistic backgrounds but their shared passion for narrative-driven art holds them together. “We’re all so different and that’s what makes it a great group,” says Rajak. “We have to juggle this with other jobs, but if you truly love doing something, you’ll do it no matter what.”
Exploring narrative via visual art
Fabula is a multi-disciplinary collective originating from the MA Sequential Design and Illustration course at the University of Brighton. The group come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines including illustration, moving image, writing, narrative textiles, art therapy, fine art, and graphic design and are connected by a desire to tell stories. Working both individually and as the Fabula collective, the group stage exhibitions, workshops, readings and performances.
Juliette Rajak is currently working on a children’s book, which explores the concept of slowing down and helping children to use unstructured time to stimulate their imaginations. In the plot, a girl is transported to the invisible world of germs. Rajak enjoys creating new ideas for narratives and likes to work with traditional processes, such as etching and aquatint.
More to explore at Hove Museum and Art Gallery
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Until November 30, free
This family-friendly display explores how artists view other artists at work. While people in this profession can be competitive, they can also be supportive and supply constructive feedback on each other’s work. The pieces on display date from the 17th to 20th centuries and all come from Brighton’s fine art collection.
Permanent exhibition, free
A treasure trove of toys throughout history. Some of the objects are brand new and others centuries old, such as dolls from the 1600s and early clockwork toys from Germany. Others, such as Barbie and Star Wars characters, will be familiar to children today. The gallery also features model trains, replica soldiers, teddy bears, dolls, and educational toys.
Permanent exhibition, free
The gallery shows how Hove has developed from a collection of smaller communities, which until the 19th century had their own separate identities – Aldrington, Benfield, Hangleton, Hove and West Blatchington.
Many Ways To Tell A Story, Hove Museum and Art Gallery, New Church Road, until May 9, 10am, free, call 03000 290900 or visit brightonmuseums.org.uk/hove