"Crouching tiger, hidden meaningThree artists illustrate a single story."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:34 PM
"Imagine a tiger running through a field of lupine. There will be as many versions as there are readers, the tiger of the imagination being infinitely varied.Artists Sally Robison, Cameron Snow and Sue Christiansen imagine the great cat - and other features of Robison's story, Ghost Tiger - three very different ways in an art exhibit opening at the Bainbridge Library Jan. 17.The trio are friends who have gathered to paint every Tuesday for two years. Each expresses her own vision of an agreed-upon theme. It's very stimulating to work with other artists in the same space, Snow said. Usually artists paint alone and it can get lonely. Working together means you are painting and drawing faster than you do by yourself. The work may not be quite as profound, but you gain other benefits. One day, Robison brought in the text of her children's' book, Ghost Tiger. She suggested that they use the tale as the day's art theme. The story is set in a Himalayan village, where a young Indian girl is responsible for tending the family cows. To reach the upper pastures, she must guide the herd through a jungle.In so doing, she overcomes her fear of the tiger there.But the tiger is not necessarily a real tiger, Christiansen points out. The tiger is a symbol of the fear that most children have in their lives.She quotes the pertinent passage: Your fear is like the tiger in the jungle, both arrive at night and both will eat you up if you are not careful. The fruit of the artists' first encounter with Ghost Tiger was three drawings of the girl riding the cat. The results were so exciting that they decided to focus on the book. Each woman took a copy of the text from which to work. They specified no size or media limitations.What was to have been a single exercise turned into a year-long series of drawings. When the three realized that they had produced works that might make an interesting exhibit, they applied for, and received, a grant from the Arts and Humanities Council to mount a show.The text, preliminary sketches and finished illustrations will be exhibited side-by-side, to show the work process.What was so surprising was how the the project grew, Christiansen said. It all came from three sketches. Now it may become a puppet show; it might be used to show students how books are made.Christiansen credits Robison with expanding the boundaries of the Ghost Tiger project.She has a restless mind, Christiansen said. She has accomplished a lot on this island.Their visions of the story are completely different, as the three friends saw when they came together to compare versions. Snow came to understand how an illustrator shapes a story emphasizing certain plot points. She also found her experience was different from that of her friends in one key respect - she had seen the foothills of the Himalayas, while they had not.While first-hand acquaintance with the reality might appear an advantage, to an artist it can be potentially limiting. I really enjoyed the opportunity to revisit a place I'd lived long ago - to summon up the plant life, the animals and the colors, she said. The others kept me from getting mired in reality, though. Sally actually made up her plants.As author-illustrator, Robison had a closer, more proprietary relationship to the story.Letting other artists share and shape the vision, especially when a project was not conceived as collaboration, isn't something every artist can manage. By allowing different versions to stand side by side, Robison perhaps emphasized, rather than diminished, the uniqueness of her own - and theirs as well.Ghost Tiger opens with a reception from 3-5:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Bainbridge Library. "