Elise Radzialowski illustrates new meaning in fairy tales

by Jillian Holness

Elise Radzialowski is 22 years old, but still believes in the power of fairy tales.

In fact, the University of Akron student’s latest exhibition in The BOX Gallery at Summit Art Space, Pages from Brother’s Grimm, was directly inspired by those stories.

Gallery Director Jaclyn Hale says she was extremely pleased to work with Elise to put on her solo exhibition. “Her work is evidence of great skill and quiet reflection on human identity, which has a transcending effect on the viewers who take a moment with each piece,” Jaclyn says.

As a senior at the Myers School of Art, Elise has had many opportunities in her college career to showcase her work.

Her art has been featured at the Emily Davis Gallery, Nine Muses Art Gallery, Kent State University and the GAR Foundation’s annual art show.

Her piece “Mother, Protector,” which is on the cover of this issue, is currently on view at the GAR Foundation’s internal art gallery. Elise says the painting is based on volunteering at Catholic Charities in Cleveland and hearing the story of a Sudanese refugee who was married at nine years old. The woman talked about her 12 children who are living in Sudan, the United States and Germany.

“Even though we couldn’t communicate well, I was touched by how much she cared about each individual kid,” Elise says.

Elise says that the painting is inspired by fairytale imagery and Catholic iconography — specifically, the blue veil of protection. The stars in the picture symbolize the globe and how the children are all living in different areas in the world.

Elise says she grew up in the Roman Catholic faith and utilizes Catholic symbols in her work.

“There’[re] so many metaphors and iconography in the Catholic church that really inspire me and continue to inspire me,” Elise says.

Elise’s work is also heavily influenced by fairy tales. She’s always loved fairy tales and was drawn to how the stories depict greater truths.

“I was really caught up in the bizarre and the fantastic and the beautiful aspect of fairy tales,” Elise says. “It’s such a mixture of this gorgeous surreal world as well as this horrific twisted monstrous reality. I think it’s those two — the play of heaven and hell — that really got me.”

Elise’s work for the current exhibition is made up of her stylized illustrations from the past three years that share a similar theme and are influenced by scenery and lessons in fairy tales.

One of the illustrations is called “Early Morning Offering” and shows scenes from “The Handless Maiden.”

In the convoluted story, “a father accidently sells his daughter’s soul to the devil, and the daughter has to outwit the demon and save herself,” Elise says.

During the story, bizarre things happen to the daughter that don’t make any sense. “At one point when she’s fighting the demon, her father has to cut her hands off because her hands are so clean the demon can’t touch her,” Elise says. “The father cuts his daughter’s hands off, hence the handless maiden, and she immediately leaves her home and goes to wander the Earth.”

Elise’s “Early Morning Offering” painting features two scenes from the story. One is where the father sits in sorrow at his kitchen table with the demon lurking in the doorway. The other is where the demon tosses coins on the floor and the father squats down and greedily picks them up.

Some themes that Elise explores in her work are isolation, confusion and depression.

“The Doorway” is set in the woods and is inspired by scenery from “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood.”

The watercolor and pastel drawing features a desolate small house surrounded by trees. Instead of roots at the bottoms of the trees, Elise has human feet, to symbolize people walking around and bumping into each other. This illustrates the confusion that comes with isolation and depression.

Elise also has sculptures in her exhibition, including multiple pairs of shoes dipped in plaster and scattered on the floor. She says the shoes represent missing people.

“In fairy tales, we read of all these horrific things that happen to children,” Elise says. “There’s like an overdeveloped sense of justice, but I kind of wanted to pay homage to that.”

Elise says she also wanted to relate the sculpture to the atrocities that are happening in the world right now. While working on the sculpture, she thought about the Holocaust and how shoes have been used as a memorial to the victims.

“If you go to Auschwitz, there’s shoes as a memorial,” Elise says. She also mentions “Shoes on the Danube,” created by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer, to honor the Jews who were killed by Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest in 1944 and 1945.

Elise wants viewers to take away a sense of remembrance and the nostalgia of childhood wonder from her work.

“I want [the audience] to experience the delight as well as the terror that was so much more powerful when you were a child and also to relate to the themes in fairy tales,” Elise says.

Elise believes having a sense of remembrance is important because it helps cultivate empathy.

“When we forget where we come from and what we’ve been through, we lack empathy for others because we do not know where they have come from or what they’ve gone or went through,” Elise says. “I want to foster that sense of empathy through remembrance.”

See Pages from Brother’s Grimm at The BOX Gallery until May 18. Also on view is Bursting at the Seams, an exhibition of weaving and fiber work by Natalie Grieshammer.

Jillian Holness is a recent graduate of Kent State University’s School of Journalism.