keskiviikko 12. joulukuuta 2012

Artist of the Month: Henry Darger.

Hi guise!

Wow is it December already? I'm not feeling very festive yet. Even though we have so much snow and it looks reeeaally pretty and it's cold, I have yet to receive that christmas spirit =/ The year before last year I was getting giddy about christmas after Halloween. I was living in England....yeah...I miss England. That December in England was so beautiful (even though there was the whole trouble with Heathrow and such). Christmas commercialism is so over the top in England that no wonder I'm not feeling the christmas vibe. But to be fair, I haven't been to the city (Helsinki) in quite a while. I just go to work, and then I go home (I live in the suburbs). Bah, I'll get my game on in no time =D 

And The Hobbit, Omg The Hobbit came out today =D And my little sister and my future brother- in-law are coming home for christmas. They're bringing their baby bunny with them. It's Mochi's first trip to Finland. I can't wait to see all three of them. And I have managed to secure all my shifts at the restaurant so all I need to do now is, well do them. Then I'm off to London! Everything is coming up roses <3 


 December's artist is an American, Henry Darger. Darger was born in Chicago in April 1892 to Rosa Fullman and Henry Joseph Darger Senior. Henry Junior had a very unfortunate start, his mother died in labor four years after his birth and sister was adopted straight away so he never saw her. Henry Junior was left in his father's care, and in his journal he writes how his father was kind and reassuring father to him, and they lived happily together. Until 1900 when the crippled and poor Henry Senior became incapable of taking care of little Henry so he was placed in an orphanage when he was eight. His father died a few years later at St. Augustine's Catholic Mission home. At the orphanage Darger junior was diagnosed mentally ill and send to The Lincoln asylum for "feeble-minded children".

A very depressing beginning don't you think. At school Darger didn't get a long with the teachers or the fellow pupils. He often quarrelled with the teachers about history, particularly about the Civil War. Darger himself said that his 'problem' was being able to see through adult lies. He described himself as the smart-aleck, a person who is obnoxious to the point of being actually smart and cleaver. He seemed to take a very arrogant stand on everyone around him. He also went through a lengthy phase of 'feeling compelled' to make strange noises earning him the nickname 'Crazy'. Me, a retard! I knew more than the whole bunch of them”, he later wrote in his journal. It's possible that some of the punishments Darger went through at The Lincoln asylum seem to have worked their way into the Realms of the Unreal. Darger later said that there were also good times there, he found some of the work enjoyable, and he had friends as well as enemies. (that may be, but in reality our mind plays tricks with us, so sometimes we can't really remember just how bad our bad times were). 

Darger tried to run away several times, but it wasn't until he was 16 that he finally succeeded and returned to Chicago in 1908. According to his autobiography, on his way to Chicago, he witnessed a huge tornado that devastated the central Illinois. He described it as "a wind convulsion of nature tremendous beyond all man's conception". Subsequently weather became one of the key characters in Darger's paintings. The tornado demolished a little and nobody was hurt.
In Chicago, with the help of his godmother, young Darger found minor work in a Catholic hospital. Darger continued to support himself with odd jobs until his retirement in 1963. When the first World War came, Darger was glad to join the troops. How unfortunate for him, he was discharged and sent home a few months later. Evidently he was unfit for the duty both mentally and physically.

Back in Chicago Darger started attending mass daily and he became a very religious man. In 1930 he settled into a second-floor room where he wrote and painted his massive In the Realms of the Unreal. At this time he tried to adopt several times, but he was always turned down. I believe Darger longed for real companionship with someone, and perhaps one of the reasons he wanted to adopt was because he wanted to save a helpless child from the same life he had had so far. Evidently Darger was very found of children, but unfortunately he'd have to spend the rest of his life alone. Darger died on April 1973 in St. Augustine's Catholic Mission home, the same place his father had died in. A little later Darger's landlord Nathan Lerner went to empty Darger's room and found all his paintings and drawings and collages along with bunch of Crucifixes and small statues of the virgin Mary and knick-knacks. On the walls he saw newspaper clippings about awful incidents and events. Then Nathan pulled up a massive book bound by hand. It was too big to open inside the room. The book revealed art material and writing dating back to 40 years. Parchment and paper glued together, paintings, drawings, collages, watercolours. And then, there was the book of 15145 pages called "The Story of the Vivian Girls in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion”. It's a 13 volume 'novel' and I'm a little confused whether it has never been published or if there are couple volumes available. Would be an interesting read I'm sure. Apart from his paintings and the first book, Darger also wrote a sequel of over 8000 pages. In the sequel, the Vivian Girls have come to Chicago. He also wrote an autobiography, of which the first 206 pages are dedicated to his childhood and the remaining 4878 pages describe a 'fantasy' tornado called “Sweety Pie” (probably the same tornado he saw). On top of all this, his journal. 

With his work Henry Darger created a new art movement which embodies naivism and outsider art: Dargerism. Personally I think it's such an honour for Darger to have a real art movement named after him. And it's such an honour to Outsider Artists as well. It's well deserved since Darger made such a grand contribution to the American art and to the art world.

Untitled 2.
On with the pictures! The picture in the beginning is just a section from a much larger painting. Usually I hate the use of Sinopia red, Ultramarine blue and Lemon yellow together because they remind me of those 6 colour cake palettes that children use in school. I had to paint with those 6 primarily colours for 5 years until on my 6th year, the school gave us a Hooker's green colour cake. I was ecstatic! So the colours in 'Untitled' remind me of elementary school where only those 6 colours excist. (Colouring pencils are a different story!). Anyway 'Untitled' illustrates the Realms of the Unreal, speaking of religion and society and how they come together in people's lives. In this piece Darger shows us his style. The children are most likely copied from magazines and from adverts because they look rather precise. Darger's speciality was to cut pictures of children from papers and magazines and then paste them onto his drawings/paintings. He'd then retouch the clippings, creating a collage. The 'Untitled' is not a collage though. His collages are interesting, but I'm far more interested in Darger's paintings/drawings. There is a lot of motion and energy going on in 'Untitled'. Darger left most of the children white which is good because it makes them stand out from the colourful background. He doesn't apply as much spontaneity to the technique he uses on the children, compared to the butterfly wings or the background. That's probably because Darger drew the children from images so every pencil stroke was well planned. The children needed to look like children, the whimsy and creativity would be expressed on the background and with the colours. The way Darger paints and uses colour, reminds me very much of children's paintings. However, there's also a certain flatness going on that only an adult is capable of producing. One needs to use specific tenchniques in order to achieve that kind of flatness in painting. If you look at the butterfly wings, or the bushes you may notice how flat they actually look. I don't mean this in a bad way because it totally works for the image. I say this image shows you Darger's whole repertoire in one go.

Vivian Girls Watching Approaching Storm in Rural Landscape.

Whilst 'Untitled' foreshadowed bad things, this Vivian Girls painting is a much happier painting. Even though they are expecting a storm, everything is still fine at the moment. This is such a beautiful and unique painting! It reminds me of really old hand-painted postcards, but this is like a haute version of them. I wouldn't mind putting this up on my wall  =D
I'd like to direct your attention to the Vivian Girls now. Notice how well Darger has drawn and then coloured the girls. His drawing is so simple and delicate. Drawing peple's faces can be a challenge because most of the time the result is more cartoonish than realistic, but Darger has doged that pit. It's probably the simplicity of his style that has helped him to avoid the cartoonish look. Of course the paintings look a little cartoonish, but in a good, fine art way. (I like cartoons too). In this piece we also get to see some of that playful side of Darger. Well maybe it's not supposed to be playful, but symbolic of children's Hermaphroditical tendencies.
It's otherwise unclear what Darger wants to say with these girls with penises. Couple reviewers say that Darger was unfamiliar with the female body, so that's why some of the Vivian Girls have penises. Whilst I think that this is a representation of sexless kids. After all, all kids are sexless until their parents (and the society) start to school them about their actual gender. Notice that in Darger's paintings there are also characters who lack gender all together. They look like children, but lack the standard features of either male or female character. Which brings us back to the Hermaphroditic option. However this young-children-naked thing that's crusial part of the series doesn't seem inappropriate or creepy at all. Maybe it's the bright colours and all the innocence that make the nakedness seem natural. I imagine that Darger wanted to express children's curiosity with the nakedness, it's not uncommon that children run around naked at one point in their lives because they don't have that sense of respect or shame yet. The happy colours intergrate with the scene and seem to highlight that innocent-naked-children theme even more. The colours make the whole scene more child-like and sweet. The place the Vivian Girls live in is made by children, for children. It's incredible how Darger managed to create such an original tale and art even after such a loveless childhood. To me it seems like the Realms of the Unreal was created by a very happy person who had a very happy childhood. (But then again I guess this is one of those psychological things that 'if you only see good things happening, you can't help, but become depressed' kind of things). But then, the Vivian Girls come across with the Glandelians...

At Battle of Drosabellanaximillian.
'Battle' tells of the war the Vivian Girls have to fight in order to save their homeland. It seems to me that with this war Darger is trying to say that adults will always be the bad guys. Children are the innocent and sweet force of the universe who get damaged by the adults. It's not growing up that damages children (us), it's adults who force children to grow up and accept their corrupted way of living. The price a child has to pay if he/she refuses to grow up is high. As we can see in the painting above. Of course anyone can see that this is just a display of Darger's knowledge of the American Civil War he was so found of. The flags, the uniforms, the big battle fields all say 'Civil War'. Well it's the Vivian Girl's Civil War. The Glandelians have proclaimed war on their catholic neighbours, the Vivian Girls. The 7 Princesses have to go up against the evil general John Manley who sends his troops to destroy the Vivian Girls. Henry Darger is the brave and valiant Captain who saves the girls from certain destruction. 
All this makes me wonder who does get to decide when it's our time to grow up? Does our enviroment really effect us so much that without us noticing, it literally forces us to grow up. And without noticing, we grow up. I'm just thinking about my adolescence and how I wanted to be a grown up already so that I could do all the fun things grown ups do. And now, in my mid-twenties I'm thinking about my decaying youth >_<
Personally I don't think it's really the adults who force their children to grow up quickly. It's people in general. People who work in marketing for example have done an amazing job marketing shit for everyone, even marketing dramas and cartoons about high school stuff to 10 year old girls and make them really want to live the high school life of a 17 year old. How twisted is that? Ahem, I digress. Darger raised good points about adults spoiling children's innocence. But since I have a little cynic living inside me, I can say that I have met some pretty shitty children too (no matter how hard their parents try, their children are still shitty). Again focus your attention on the detailing Darger shows here. It's marvelous the way Darger leaves the people and the ground white/yellowish to bring the viewer's attention to the character's clothes and flags. Supposedly the painting/scene from the story is not about the people who are fighting, but about the clashing ideologizes. Really truly beautiful and deep painting to behold.
Darger wrote two endings for the Vivian Girls. In the first one christianity and the Vivian Girls win. In the other one the girls are defeated and their world is thrown into godlessness. You tell me which one you prefer.

Untitled 3.
In the end, I think Darger's art is a representation of how he imagined the outside world. After his retirement, he locked himself in his room and worked on the Realms. To me it seems like Darger was imagining what was happening outside his little room. Perhaps that's why he didn't dare to leave his room, because in reality there was nothing out there for him. However if he stayed inside and imagined what was happaning outside, then he could be part of it too. I just have this idea that Darger must have imagined that the child slave rebellion was happening right outside his little room. Because all the critics have said that the story feels like Darger was really there, like the war really happened. Darger's paintings resembles religious/middle age art a lot, which usually describes events from the bible or the reality long-gone. So I can understand why people who have seen the paintings like to think that it could have been real. In the end, one needs to remember that for Henry this was not art. I'm guessing his art and his writings were his private thoughts ment just for himself. Perhaps this was a sort of a self discovery journey for him. Something he wanted to be reality, but it would only be his reality and not the real reality itself. 

Darger's 'Untitled' and other paintings can be seen in The Simpsons, season 20 episode 09 'Lisa the Drama Queen'. Lisa and her new friend go to a museum and you can see Darger's work on the wall. That was a nice surprise from The Simpsons. 

Below is a trailer of Jessica Yu's documentary of Henry Darger and the Realms of the Unreal. 
I didn't know about this documentary until I started researching for this review. It looks really interesting and I shall check it out soon.

And here's a link to the American Folk Art Museum which has the biggest Darger collection in the world.

That's it for this review. I'll see you again before New Years with my 2012 post. What has happened to me in 2012 =D 

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone!! Thank you for reading!


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