Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lookalikes #12: Feels and Henry Darger


Feels is a 2005 album by experimental band Animal Collective. Henry Darger is the outsider artist par excellence, a solitary man who worked as a janitor for some fifty years. It wasn't until his death in 1973 that his extraordinary inner life was discovered.

Feels' album cover was created by Animal Collective singer Dave Pornter. According to Wikipedia, Portner 'has been a huge fan of Darger but didn't have Darger in mind while creating the cover art. He found a children's educational guide on the street and thought "the images fit the sound and the lyrics perfectly."'

Which isn't entirely dissimilar to Darger's method: he was often seen picking rubbish off the street and his flat was full of old magazines and newspapers. Not being able to draw figures very well, he used to trace them.

After Darger's death his landlord, photographer Nathan Lerner, started clearing out his flat. Amongst the rubbish, old newspapers and magazines, hundreds of bottles of Pepto-Bismol and a thousand balls of string, Lerner uncovered Darger's twelve volume, 15,000 page magnum opus: 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 (arguably the longest work of fiction ever, and with the longest title).

Darger started the book in 1909; it took him eleven years to write it longhand; he then began to type it. Concerning the seven princess Vivian sisters and their battles against an evil regime, it creates an entire world that, presumably, Darger (who had a damaged childhood, naturally) immersed himself in.

Illustrating the epic are some two hundred watercolours, drawings and collages, some A4 in size, some far larger and longer, like scrolls. The pictures contain elaborate, violent and bizarre battle scenes with soldiers and prepubescent girls (some with penises, some with horns) against landscapes of forests, hills and mountain-like clouds. The extraordinary thing about these pictures is the imaginative combination of the innocent, exquisitely detailed and colourful style of painting with the violent, bizarre, sexual and religious content.

Darger also produced, aside from his Vivian Girls story, collages reminiscent, perhaps, of Joseph Cornell's; and while it's impossible for the two to have known each other, it's interesting to note that Cornell was also a somewhat strange and reclusive artist with a suspect interest in young girls.

Henry Darger's epitaph reads 'artist and protector of children'.

No comments :