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April 1 2009 4 01 /04 /April /2009 17:07

At the Salon du Dessin Contemporain in Paris , we noticed these very particular drawings of Henry Darger, presented by the Edlin Gallery, from New York. We went to meet Andrew Edlin and asked him about this outsider artist...

Interview of Andrew Edlin

So, you showcase here some impressive works for the fair, watercolour drawings of Henry Darger, so can you tell us his story, that is exceptional, and tell us why you chose to display those ones ?
Well first of all it is important to know that I represent the estate of Henry Darger, exclusively, so my job is to represent all his works, interact with the museums and coordinate the exhibitions, and all the publishing projects. There iare always new publications, films, and other projects about him. I have been here building an audience in Paris, since the big show in 2006 at La Maison Rouge. This is my second Salon du Dessin, mostly because of that show, people in Paris are more aware of his works. They have been showed previously at Halle Saint Pierre, and at the Musee d’Art Brut in Lausanne.
So, I basically selected some works that I had, not the very large one, because I think I have already the most expensive works in this fair. My goal is really to continue to expose people to his works and to educate them about his life, and his art.

So can you tell us his story, because I think it is quite particular…
Certainement… So, Darger died in 1973 in Chicago, he was 81 years old. He had lived his whole life in Chicago, he was a janitor in several hospitals. Between the age of 9 and 17 he lived in an orphanage, and at the age of 17 he escaped, and that’s when he started working in hospitals as a janitor, cleaning, rolling bandages. He was a devoted catholic and was going to Mass every day. He led a very isolated life though, living in a two room apartment, and nobody knew what he was doing there, until he died. When he died, Nathan Lerner, who was his landlord, and very fortunately a talented artist and inventor himself, discovered the work. And together with the works, about 300-350 magnificent watercolours drawings and collages, was a 15 000 pages manuscript called "In the Realms of the Unreal", which is the story of the Vivian girls, seven sisters, preadolescent girls, fighting against an evil race of adult men called the Glandelinians who practiced child slavery, so the Vivian girls were trying to save the world’s children from the Glandelinians.

So this story is all fictional ?
Yes, it’s a fantasy, but very well documented, there were countless horrible battles, he would even write all the casualty details. And after he died, Nathan Lerner spent the last twenty five years of his life to put this work to the public’s eye and now, seen in museum like MoMA, Whitney, the American Folk Art Museum, The Hara in Tokyo, KW-Berlin, and the Whitechapel in London. It is shown all over the world. My aim is to continue to present it internationally, expanding the context in which he was first presented, which is what we call Art Brut or Outsider Art. 

How different is it for you ?
Well, for me, Darger fits the classic definition of Art Brut, because he was self-taught, and had no contact with the art world. But I feel he was really a contemporary artist the way he appropriated images from popular culture, I mean, he didn’t have any training, so he traced images from magazines, and children’s colouring books, and he used carbon paper to transfer the images to his paper and then he would do multiple images but change the positions and the colouring of the clothing and he developed a great sense of composition to do the backgrounds of the pieces

And the colours he chose, it’s amazing, for instance this very vivid pink…
Yes, this one is especially vivid. A lot of time you know the colours are less vivid, but it is hard to say why, because they were originally discovered banded into huge books also, so that’s why most of them are double sided.

What attracts you in Darger works and what made you represent his estate, which his a strong dedication for one artist...
Well, what I like about art and what I look for  is something radically individual. Darger expresses a whole universe that he inhabited, this was his life, he really lived inside it and created such an elaborated fantasy world, he was so deeply involved in, that I just find it amazing. His imagery was incredibly original. This is a blengin, a mythological creature within the myth of his story "In the Realms of the Unreal" these creatures were friend of the Vivian girls, and would helped them against the Glandelinians. They were creatures completely created from his own imagination. It’s fantastic… In general I am very much impressed by any artist’s imagination. I think the problem with many contemporary artists is they are using art historical references much of the time and I think, a lot of time it becomes sort of a cloak to their own unconscious. They are so busy absorbing all these outside influences, and studying the techniques, that sometimes it can block what is deep inside. It’s too cerebral. In my opinion the best of any artist is when something is really personal, authentic, genuine, and not sort of tainted by the popular culture of the moment. I like contemporary art also, but when artist have that same radically individual quality. To me, when I see a work of art, what impresses me, whether I necessarily like it or not, it’s when there is only one person who could have made this work of art, that’s a real accomplishment. I find that true with music : I often compare it with Art Brut. For instance Bob Dylan; He never won any award for his vocal training, but when you hear him saying two words, there is no one else it could possibily be. It is the idiosyncratic nature of the art, or when Neil Young plays a guitar solo, he is not a virtuoso, but there no one else it could be. You know it instinctively. In Art I find look for the same kind of feelings...

Will follow tomorow the rest of the interview, where Andrew presents us two other artists also related to Art Brut...

[Visuals : Above : Henry Darger, Untitled (recto)24 " x 37 " watercolor and pencil on paper Image © Kiyoko Lerner. Courtsey Edlin Gallery. Below : Henry Darger, Young Striped Blengen Female, Boy King Islands 19 " x 24 "  watercolor and pencil on paper. Image © Kiyoko Lerner. Courtsey Edlin Gallery]]

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