Originally posted at gargarean.wordpress.com(11 July 14) as a followup to my Dionysian Artists? post.
What makes artists – Dionysian artists? It is something I’m still pondering on. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is frustrating to find a Dionysian artist because, to my knowledge, there are none that directly identify with Dionysus.
Another point that was brought up in the 7.3.14 chat was that art is propaganda. This is an excellent point – especially considering the awful state of the art world now. Art school first taught me this, as if you did not have legit reason for producing art you failed regardless of skill, therefore it *had* to be propaganda. However despite what the art world says, I don’t believe that all art is propaganda.
When there are artists like Goya that produced artwork without the intention of people seeing it, how can it be propaganda? Then there are mad artists, some who were genuinely insane. In art speak this is called, “Outsider Art” an artist that is unrelated to the art world but produces work for whatever reason but mostly personal. Often it’s just a matter of expression, sometimes it’s used as means to escape reality. I’m not going to be totally inclusive of that term but I have always loved the Outsider artists as it seems the most honest, it is what I call integrity and one of the elements that I consider Dionysian. In this post I want to explore what it is to be a mad artist, the first is not what I consider mad, but still I make a point. Hopefully this article is something that makes sense. Again I have kept it as simple as possible. I have a growing list of artists that I can talk about but these ones ‘called out’ to me. Here we go:
William Holman Hunt
I’ve been fighting with myself over including Hunt in this piece. He contradicts my point of art not being propaganda because he fits into the category of symbolism and maintained an artistic philosophy until death. Also he is not so much an outsider artist by today standards… but by putting myself in his time, he is pretty radical. Hunt was one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which was established after his frustration of being booted out of art school for not complying with the criteria. The Pre-Raphelites then became one of the first art movements that encompassed visual arts, writing, fashion, architecture and home décor. It radically altered how westerns lived. In Victorian times these guys were like hippies, they rejected Victorian ‘greyness’ and opted for more casual clothing (one of the reasons why we don’t expect women to wear corsets and puffy behind dresses, nowadays.) With Western Celtic idealism they reasserted the Renaissance limited rational and looked towards nature, while rejecting eighteen hundreds enlightenment — Romanticism.
Ever noticed the irony of how some people are finding a reconnection with nature via exposure of the internet? Well in the eighteen hundreds a similar thing happened with industrialism. In terms of art, chemists were developing new colours and mass producing paint, thus tube paints were an amazing invention, they allowed artists new colours and also the luxury of painting in oils outside the studio — in nature.
For much of his artistic career Hunt was not as successful as other brotherhood members, he was prone to pilgrimages to the Holy Land and despite being a founder of the brotherhood was an outsider of his own art movement. In his travels he claimed to have had a series of epiphanies, where his art changed but still maintained the philosophy of the Pre-Raphelites. Whenever he returned home his friends described him as a changed man, he is often said to be like a monk or holy man. Despite this, he caused a series of controversies in his love interests and eventually rejected England entirely and migrated to Jerusalem where he lived and produced art until his eye sight sadly started to fade.
Apart from Hunt’s insane use of colour, he focused on many esoteric symbols even though they were related to Christianity. In Victorian times his work was *weird*… like mind fuck weird. This contributed to his lack of success at the early stages of his career and also cause him frustration as he was having to continually explain the symbols in his art. He was a Victorian outsider.
Richard Dadd killed his dad… like seriously. Dadd was born into a middle class family, his skill at art was appreciated at a young age and was accepted into the Royal Academy of Arts at age 20. He was of the top artists to graduate with his skills noted by Sir Thomas Phillips who hired Dadd as an illustrator for his expedition through Greece and the Middle East. While traveling up the Nile, Dadd had his first psychotic episode where he believed himself to be possessed by Osiris. When he returned home he was diagnosed with an ‘unsound mind’ and cared by his family. Richard became paranoid that his father was the devil and killed him, thereafter fleeing to France. While abroad he attempted to kill a tourist but was over powered and caught by police, in custody admitted his crimes. He was sent to Bedlam (Bethlem hospital), where the doctors encouraged him to continue painting as a treatment.
While in hospital he painted scenes of fairies from his mind, some inspired by Shakespeare. Usually a claustrophobic miss-match of somewhat sinister beings. His most famous painting: “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke” is accompanied with a poem to justify the composition. A kind of justified madness?
Apart from that: Dadd’s latter art is pure expression and fantasy, he recreated worlds within his confines and has given us the gift of being able to appreciate it though his work.
Must be something in the water in Victorian era England or is it that I admit to having a bias towards European artists, especially those before WWII? Wain was a very successful Victorian illustrator, in early life he was often published and admired for his anthromorphised comics featured in popular newspapers. When his wife became ill from breast cancer their two cats comforted her, Wain was inspired by the cats and started painting what would become his trademark. After the death of his wife he continued to illustrate cats and was a well-known name in the UK and had a developing interest in America. However his business sense sucked, with a combination of swindles, bad investments and mental problems he fell into destitution. His family had him admitted and he eventually found himself in Bedlam where he was free to continue to painting cats. Here his admiration for cats started… to… transform…
There are many theories about Wain’s condition, some claim that his abstraction was a result of schizophrenia or Asperger’s Syndrome, others that say it was an intellectual choice. It is a matter of discussion, but given the circumstances, Wain was what I’d call a mad artist.
Okay! Enough English twats! I was introduced to Henry Darger just last year by a super cool Italian guy (the Italian dude used to play with Nick Cave btw…) Anyway, he handed me a beautiful book that featured Darger’s work, an illustrated summary of “ 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,” — I was amazed. Apart from what my Italian friend told me, I don’t really know much about Darger so I’m taking the opportunity in this post to catch up on wiki-research. I do know that he is a posthumous artist, in that no one knew of him until death (thereby fitting into my criteria.)
** Retranslating into Mark’s vulgar writing**
Darger had a shit life. He was brought up by a poor single father who lost his wife in child birth to Darger’s sister. His father’s health declined and Henry was sent to an asylum for mentally ill children: there he was abused and forced into child labour. He possibly suffered from Tourette Syndrome, which got him in trouble with his peers and ‘guardians.’ At age sixteen he escaped the asylum and settled in Chicago where he worked as a cleaning clerk at a hospital until death, he was a devote Christian and lived alone his entire life. He had a passion for protecting children and used murdered children as muses. His biographers speculate that he had gender issues, which is prevalent in his work. (Though my interpretation differs… but who cares?)
In his spare time he worked on several epic fantasies. His main work is Realms of the Unreal, over 15,000 pages of writing and illustrations made with, traced from, or inspired by reused magazines that he collect off the streets. In his story two nations go to war, one a peaceful nation of human, transex, Christian children, the other mostly adult men who are atheist child slavers. The story concluded with two endings: one where the children win and they live happily ever after, the other the slavers win and genocide the child.
When Darger died his landlords inherited his estate, fortunately they were not dumb cunts and preserved his work and made it available for exhibition, Darger has since become one of the most recognised outsider artists.
In a rare case of being introduced to art by music I found Robertson via Sufijan Stevens, who has used Robertson’s art on his album “Age of Adz.” Robertson was considered a paranoid schizophrenic that lived as a recluse in Louisiana after his wife left him for another man. He spent the rest of his life creating an elaborate and complex world in his house where he believed himself to be the saviour of man from an international conspiracy by women with goals of bringing about the End of Days. Naturally, Roberson was deeply misogynistic but took much of his inspiration from pop culture, science fiction and the bible. He claimed to have had a number of visions of god and documented these in rambling calendars and diaries, using a weird numerology to calculate the End. He could strangely fit into the concept of propaganda because the external areas of his house were completely covered in signs telling people to repent and that women would go to hell etc. However these were wards to keep the women away, the interior was a sanctum, which very few ever saw, it covered in paintings and altars to his wife and the life he lost from her betrayal. So while he used the bible to justify his hatred towards women he also diverted from its teachings by creating his own mythos and alternate reality. His work became popular in the late eighties after being featured in a number exhibitions. Unfortunately his house was destroyed by a hurricane in 1992. Much of his artwork is in private exhibitions so it’s difficult to find some high quality images, that said there are number of books that I found at the library, so go look it up for yourself :)
I suppose that concludes my little article. If it isn’t obvious, I’m still perplexed by the puzzle of Dionysian artists, but I hope that my point of art is not always propaganda and that pure self-expression is the element I consider Dionysian.
At the very least I hope I introduced some artists for you all to ponder upon.
Hunt – Wikipedia; under public domain
Dadd – Wikipedia; under public domain
Wain – Wikipedia; under public domain
Darger- source 1 & source 2 All rights reserved to original content providers. Images used for educational purpose
Robertson – source Wikipedia under fair use license