Monday, February 25, 2008

Henry Darger, sometimes called "Eddie Darger"...

I feel very unqualified this evening to talk about Outsider Art, I really do, but I want to post this anyway. I've been sitting on these paintings (ouch) for days, ever since I discovered Henry Darger on someone's Myspace page and realized that I absolutely adore him.

First of all, let me digress a little and say that I have a thing for 'Art of the Insane', not to be confused with folk art, but I suppose still lumpable under the blanket term Outsider Art, or at least art brut. Ever since I went to France in 1983 and was able to visit La Maison Picassiette, the home-turned-work of art of Raymond Isidore, I've been fascinated with this type of expression. Isidore was a gravedigger who lived just outside Chartres, and when he wasn't gravedigging, he was decorating the walls, floors, and furniture of his home with little bits of broken cutlery and glass.

Raymond Isidore, Picassiette interior

This medium is known as shardware, or pique assiette, and while it's not such a big deal now, as a 22 year old, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. You could walk along concrete and broken glass pathways, and into the house decorated with broken glass, and sit at tables and chairs embedded with broken glass, then go into the chapel of concrete and broken get the idea. What was especially beautiful about Picassiette was that conceptually, it mirrored the larger and more well-known stained edifice in whose shadow it stood, the cathedral of Chartres, just more brut and muddy.

Raymond Isidore, Picassiette gardens

Anyway, it fascinated me. After coming back to Athens I soon ended up making the trek over to Paradise Gardens, where I experienced something very similar to Isidore's home, but larger and more elaborate. Not to mention that Howard's garden touched me on a much more primal level. The air was muggy, the plants in full bloom, and it being the end of summer, all was very lush, green and southern. As we walked through the steamy heat, I felt in certain ways like I was a kid at some summer gathering with my family.

Howard Finster, Paradise Garden

It was reassuring and gentle, touched with the whimsy and silliness that was Finster. Everywhere you turned, there was a sweet angel smiling at you, or a group of little clouds making faces at you. But best of all, it was in my backyard - not in France, but in Georgia, just a few miles from where I grew up. It was familiar and personal in a way the French garden could never be.

Howard Finster, Paradise Garden

Fast forward (yes, I said that) to graduate school where I took a seminar (among many) on art movements in Paris following World War II. Here I encountered the artists who were associated with the Prinzhorn Collection, works of art by asylum inmates in the early part of the 20th century which had been collected by psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn in Switzerland to be exhibited in a gallery and which were, in fact, later published in book form, greatly influencing other artists working at the time.

Now, the whole idea of a link between madness and creativity is nothing new, of course, but to actually view these paintings and drawings, looking for similarities, common themes and styles, and to begin to appreciate them as actual works of art was something eye-opening for me personally. Here were individuals compelled to create, driven to paint while confined to an asylum, most of them for their entire lives. Via their works they expressed their obsessions, their fears, their demons - each painter hinting at his 'illness' via the manner in which he painted.

Adolf Wolfli

In the obsessive-compulsive, we see tiny repeated patterns, appearing over and over and over in one work and from piece to piece. In the schzophrenic, there are demons, monsters, surreal images of half-human figures against unrecognizable landscapes. I'm completely making most of this up, but it is true that each artist's individual makeup is reflected in his work. Kind of like the art of the sane, only more complex, perhaps.

So, last week I discover this artist, Henry Darger. He was a janitor, it seems, a recluse who lived in Chicago in the first half of the 20th century, and painted scenes of intricate patterns with fabulous visual geometric rhythm. He has a recurring theme in his work, a bunch of clone-like young girls called "The Vivians."

There is a lovely write-up on his life and his art on Sara Ayers' page, which I am just going to link here, since she writes about him so beautifully that there is no need to repeat it all here. Apparently this man, who had a wretched, isolated life, sometimes living on the street, sometimes eating out of garbage cans, had a rich, vivid, colorful fantasy life. When his landlady was cleaning out his room following his death, she found thousands of works of art he had done, paintings which depicted a fantasy world populated by young girls, often naked, often sexually suggestive, but depicted in such a way that it is clear that he was a very talented and thoroughly modern artist.

Which brings me to my last point: what is the relationship between madness and modernity? Why were artists of this era - roughly 1945 through the 1960's - drawn to art made by often institutionalized and always untrained artists? Where is the overlap between primitivism and modernity? Why did Dubuffet, Ernst, Klee and others strive to reach the level of purity found in these works, and what does that say about individual expression? What did modern painters have in common with inmates of insane asylums that was strong enough to give them a shared collective pool from which to draw inspiration?

I have my ideas, but I'll leave it up to y'all to talk now.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The hits just keep on coming

I adore this woman. Please indulge me and watch the clip. I aspire to her flirting skills, and can only hope to ever be as forthright as she is.

I swear the guy says "'Thee-o' lonious" after she mentions Monk. He doesn't deserve this job, whatever it is. But what's our girl got against Billie Holiday???

"So when you write a song, who's the first person you play it for?" Her expression after that one is priceless.

Anyway, on to other things. I'm going to be real pithy here, and say that life sure is funny. My world has taken a 180 in the last week. I'm happy. Not just 'happy' but some word that's much bigger than that. It's like the sun came out or something. More later, cause right now I'm kind of speechless, which makes writing a blog entry kind of futile.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Still crushing...

I found this on YouTube and have no idea what it is. It seems to be some wacky British t.v. show, like the kind we DON'T have here. Sadly. We need more pop culture humor.

Who knew Amy was such a cockney, or so bleedin' funny???

I love her even more now...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Amy Winehouse is Go!

I am here to stick up for Amy Winehouse, because America is trying to make her into some character in an imaginary intervention reality show, and it's pissing me off. Watch this video and tell me she's not right on fucking target:

She's Aretha, Gladys, and Sarah rolled into one. She put out the album EVERYONE should have put out last year. She's making music that's completely unlike anything else at the moment. I know what you're thinking...But Julie! What about all those other blues-y soul-y female singers...Joss Stone, Grace Potter, etc? Puhleeze! Amy has more talent in one hair on that bouffanted head than all those gals put together. They're doing the same old thing, lending their admittedly strong voices to the exact same style of music that's been coming out for years. Amy, on the other hand, has incorporated blues, 50's girl bands, ska, reggae, and rock and made a sound that's completely her own. She is in a league of her own, doing it ALL differently. Just look at her backup singers. Anyone who puts those handsome, nattily-dressed gogo dancers behind her is cool beyond belief.

But for some reason the public focuses on her personal strife, letting it overshadow her talent. Yes, she's a mess, yes her teeth are falling out, but in the long run I don't give a shit if she's in AA or snorting coke onstage, if her hair looks like shit or if she cleans up her act, she's the epitome of 'it' at the moment, and should be recognized for her talent. She is not some tattooed Brittney, some poster child for rehab, she's a kick ass musician with her finger on the pulse of something very new.

Any singer cool enough to choose that band, to be that retro but still fully in the 21st century, to sing those songs with that voice should get nothing but praise. Modern whomp? Um, Taylor, Amy already did it while you were asleep.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Charlotte and Harry Get Hitched

I absolutely love this episode of "Sex and the City." Charlotte loves Harry so much, and he loves her even more, and they click like nobody's business, even though she's totally WASP and he's totally Jewish. They absolutely don't belong together, and that's what makes it perfect.

The two of them give me an ache in my heart. Here it is - Valentine's Day - and Channel 36 has decided it's time to re-run this particular episode. It's times like this that I know God hates me. Last year I was with my Harry, this year it turns out he was all a figment of my imagination. All the beautiful Charlotte/Harry moments are gone. Were they even real at all, or just a fog I lived in for two and a half years? I have no idea. It sure felt real, and forever, and perfect.

Anyway, beautiful neurotic Charlotte has the most cursed wedding imaginable: she and Harry get into the wedding section of the NY Times, which is quite the coup, but in the published photo she has smudge on her upper lip, making her look like Hitler. Samantha breaks her pearl bracelet in the middle of the wedding ceremony...pearls go everywhere and later cause Charlotte to nearly fall as she leaves the altar. Harry spills red wine on Charlotte's beautiful wedding dress, creating an awkward moment of messy silence. And Carrie's fling from the previous night, under the impression that she used him just for sex, mouths obscenities at her during the ceremony. At the reception, the paper from which Miranda is reading catches fire on one of the candles and someone dumps a glass of water on her to put it out. But in the end, it's all perfect, because of the love, baby, because of the love.

These final episodes of SATC are truly poignant. Each of the four women ends up with her one true love. It's a beautiful thing, even if it's pure fiction. We can still hope for love, and believe it's out there somewhere.

Happy Valentine's Day, for those of you who are celebrating it. Be in love, be happy, and know how lucky you are.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cha Cha Cha

Sometimes I fear I'm becoming Shelley Winters.

Without the Chinese subtitles, of course.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my mother's birthday. I won't say how old she is, because she is a genuine Southern belle, and we don't tell our ages.

Mom is celebrating her birthday without my dad for the second time, and she's come such a long way since his death. Last year my brother and I threw her a very big birthday bash, having a private party in a fancy restaurant on Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead, getting all gussied up for photos, serving champagne (maybe I'm making that part up...seems a tad decadent at lunch, even for my family...) but this year she is feeling much more like her old self, and the celebration was more real and laid back. The kids and I invited her to spend the night at our house Friday night. We met my brother and his family at Longhorn Steak, had a fabulous dinner, the waiters sang happy birthday to her, we had cake, and mom was genuinely happy. She only got teary when we sang; I could tell she was thinking about Dad. Afterwards we came home, opened presents, then put on our pajamas and did some genealogical research on the internet, cause mom doesn't know how to use a computer and needed my help researching her paternal side of the family so she can get in the DAR. It was a nice, un self-conscious celebration, and I am very proud of her for being so strong so quickly after my dad's death.

My mom is a musician. She plays piano beautifully and has been a piano teacher ever since I was little. She's still at it, and says it keeps her on her toes. No doubt. She is a very sensitive person, a caring person, and she loves her kids and grandchildren with a calm honesty that I wish I possessed. She worries about silly things - being late to an event, wearing the right outfit, driving on the interstate - but she doesn't worry about the real important stuff. I've never seen her upset about anything when dealing with my children, for example. Things they do that make me want to pull out my hair, she treats with warmth and hugs, and gets much better results, I might add.
I am happy we spent her birthday weekend together, and I am lucky to call her Mom.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Don't let this happen to you...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I met with Candace today. She's my advisor. We had a long, serious discussion about me leaving the program. Lately I just haven't had it in me to finish (read: start) this goddamn dissertation. It's like a brick wall, and even when I feel good about it, and think I've got a clever idea as to how to approach the topic and possibly even write something, I just end up going in circles. Again.

So today I presented her with a plan that I worked out this past weekend. Or maybe it was last night. In any event, I narrowed down the topic, stripped away some stuff that it's just not possible for me to write about with any semblance of intelligence, and developed a method that I think will get me finished in six months, or damn near close. I told Candace, "I have to get a significant chunk of this done in the next six months, or throw in the towel completely." And she said "Don't throw in the towel completely. You've worked too hard. It's really not even an option." So being the good little advisee that I am, I didn't.

Now I feel confident and capable. I am going to tackle this with a vengeance, and even if I never end up teaching a single college course after this summer (I'm teaching summer school French 102....WHY???), by the end of the year you shall all have to call me.....drum roll, please....DR. HOUSE!!!! Only not as hot as the REAL Dr. House.

OH Greg. You do it for me, baby...