Fiction writer, fairy-tale scholar discusses works of art

Alondra Ortiz

Fiction writer and fairy-tale scholar Kate Bernheimer discussed Thursday the dark themes of artist Natalie Franks’s illustrations that hang in the Blanton Art Museum. 

Many of Franks’s paintings in the museum focus on the female characters of the Brothers Grimm’s stories, which reinterpret folktales told by midwives in the 1800s. There’s an underlying sweetness to the paintings that comes through the serious tone, Bernheimer said. 

“There is this innocent quality behind Natalie’s lurid depictions where you know that her intention isn’t to upset you,” Bernheimer said. “For me at first, it was hard to look at these depictions, but as you looked closer, you see this delicacy in her style. You often see other artists where their intention is to provoke but when you see all this brutality it must be very subjective to her and how she relates to that gruesomeness.”

The Brothers Grimm folktales often emulate traditional English fairy tales but are a series of bad events that the characters go through art history graduate student Sarah Abare said. Although the stories end happily, the point is not happiness, but rather everything the character goes through, which Frank depicts in her illustrations, Abare said.

“She is attracted to the sense that there’s a twist in how this may represent reality,” Abare said. “There’s not always a ‘happily ever after.’”

Jackson Hukari, a member of the Austin Young Chamber, an organization of young professionals, said he appreciated the dialogue that arose from Frank’s work, but wasn’t too fond of her style.

“It’s not anything I would hang in my house,” said Hukari.

Burnheimer says she understands that not everyone will enjoy Frank’s strange drawings. 

“These stories are never going to suit everyone.” Bernheimer said. “There’s no such thing as the perfect fairy tale. People always think that fairy tales are these happily ever after stories but really that’s usually just the last two lines of these stories, an afterthought.”