Thursday, July 26, 2012

Henry Darger & the Aurora Shootings

Jessica Yu's 2004 documentary In the Realms of the Unreal details Darger's life and artworks.

Henry Joseph Darger, Jr. April 12, 1892 – April 13, 1973, was a reclusive writer & artist who worked as a custodian. He has become famous for his posthumously-discovered 15,145-page, single spaced fantasy manuscript 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, along with several hundred drawings & watercolor paintings that illustrated the story. Darger's work has become one of the most celebrated examples of Outsider Art.

In 1930, Darger settled into a second-floor room on Chicago's North Side. It was in this room, for 43 years, that Darger imagined & wrote his massive tomes, in addition to a 10 year daily weather journal & assorted diaries, until his death at St. Augustine's Catholic Mission home, the same institution his father had died in. In the last entry in his diary, he wrote: "January 1, 1971. I had a very poor nothing like Christmas. Never had a good Christmas all my life, nor a good new year & now.... I am very bitter but fortunately not revengeful, though I feel should be how I am."

Darger is buried in All Saints Cemetery, Des Plaines, Illinois, in a plot called "The Old People of the Little Sisters of the Poor Plot." Darger's headstone is inscribed "Artist" & "Protector of Children."

Henry Darger was an unusual man. Some found his references to girls & violence disturbing; others saw his work as a creative way of dealing with his horrific upbringing after being left in orphanages & poor houses upon losing his mother, sister & father at a young age. He held menial jobs while bursting with an artistic genius that he channeled into an amazing body of work at night, isolated in his little room.

On the other hand, James Holmes, the Aurora Shooter, manifested his genius in outward, horrific ways. He was obsessed with The Dark Knight & his hero was the Joker. Of course as onlookers, we entertain any idea that might make his acts rational & therefore explainable. Once again there is a tightrope between sanity & full blown mental illness & what seems like a tipping point which pushes the mentally ill over the abyss of no return. Unfortunately hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Kamil Vojnar

Kamil Vojnar 'Flying Blind' Series 1996

Kamil Vojnar Born 1962 Moravia, Czechoslovakia
School of Graphic Arts, Prague
Philadelphia Art Institute
New York City
Paris, St. Remy de Provence, France

I was first introduced to  Kamil Vojnar in the 90's with the magazine image at left & did not even know the above uncut version existed until seeing the image again among my things recently. I was bowled over at the time with the ethereal quality of these angels who seemed to be taking flight before my eyes & this work continues to be a favorite piece. I wanted to see if I could buy a print so googled his work & low & behold found the image below that I had taken from ANOTHER magazine around 2002 & used in a collage piece that has since sold. Again, I was attracted to the ethereal quality image, not realizing it was also by Vojnar!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jimi Hendrix

In 1979 I was twenty-one, married to my high school sweetheart, & living not far from the Jimi Hendrix grave in a small cemetery in Renton, Washington. When we visited from time to time, Hendrix had a simple little ground marker etched with a Stratocaster Fender guitar, (drawn the wrong way as he was actually left handed & played it upside down). There were always a few bottles, joint or cigaret butts laying around, but I remember feeling glad he hadn't ended up in Pere' La Chaise Cemetery like Jim Morrison, with a rather embarrassing & graffitied head stone that still seems out of place in an otherwise beautiful setting. 

Jimi died in 1970 overseas in England when I was around twelve & he was twenty-seven. I certainly understood more about his talent & impact on the music scene by the time I was visiting his grave nine years after his death & married to a drummer, but instead of fading into the cultural wasteland, his genius & popularity has only become more legendary since his passing. We now have The Experience Music Project in Seattle, where he is showcased along with Curt Cobain, Pearl Jam & Quincy Jones, among over thirty other world famous musicians who also got their start in Washington.   

Imagine my surprise when I went back to visit 'Jimi' on my way home from a trip just a few days ago. I had a hard time even recognizing the now HUGE Greenwood Memorial Cemetery & the cottage industries that have sprung up around it over the last 30 or so years!
THEN I SAW IT.  Smack dab in the middle of the park is a massive Mausoleum I'd read about a decade or so back, with it's images of Hendrix, hand written lyrics & even his autograph etched in marble. About 20 small plain markers inside a circle of purple flowers & grass are waiting for other relatives to arrive, I presume. His mother, who died when he was quite young is there now, while his dad & stepmother are buried alongside Jimi underneath the main slab. I stayed for about 20 minutes, watching many young & older fans stop by to read the lyrics, pay their respects & pose for pictures. I kept waiting myself to feel some of the old nostalgia, but something just wasn't sitting right with me, even with the original marker now mounted into the middle altar. I actually felt slightly nauseated & so decided to do some research online regarding the Hendrix back story when I got home. The following is some of what I found:

"Born Johnny Allen Hendrix on Nov. 27, 1942, in Seattle, WA, Jimi was the first of five children born to Al Hendrix & Lucille Jeter. His parents met at a dance in Seattle in 1941 when Lucille was 16 & she married Al in March of 1942, while pregnant. Al Hendrix spent Jimi’s first three years away in the Army while Lucille struggled with raising her infant son who was mostly cared for by family members & others during this period. He did have some sense of continuity was his grandmother, Nora Hendrix.

Hendrix's father left the Army in Sept. of 1945 & retrieved his son from a woman in Berkeley CA. He legally changed his name to James, although he was known as "Buster" from birth on. After his return to Seattle, Al reunited with Lucille, but found it difficult to gain steady employment & the family was impoverished. Like Lucille, Al struggled with alcohol & there were frequent fights, causing Jimi to withdraw & hide in a closet in their home. Moving often, they stayed in cheap hotels & apartments around Seattle. Throughout his childhood Hendrix was often dropped off to be cared for by relatives, which had an imprint on him that would remain for the rest of his life. Hendrix was a shy & sensitive boy, deeply affected by the poverty & family disruption he experienced at a young age. In addition to instability of his home, Hendrix in later years confided to two different girlfriends that he had been the victim of sexual abuse.

He had two brothers & two sisters, all of whom had disabilities & were placed in foster homes. When Hendrix was nine, his parents divorced. His mother developed cirrhosis of the liver & died in Feb. 1958 when Jimi was 15.
Around this time, he acquired his first acoustic guitar for $5 & learned to play by practicing several hours a day, watching others play, getting tips from more experienced players, & listening to records. He did a brief stint in the Army at 18 instead of going to jail & from then on until his death almost ten years later, he devoted himself to music.

Hendrix synthesized many styles in creating his musical voice and his guitar style was unique, later to be abundantly imitated by others. Despite his hectic touring schedule & notorious perfectionism, he was a prolific recording artist leaving behind more than 300 unreleased recordings. Hendrix is ranked number 3 on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Rock N' Roll, behind the Rolling Stones & the Beatles. He has been voted by Rolling Stone & Guitar World as the best electric guitarist of all time. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him number 6 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. Guitar World's readers voted six of Hendrix's solos among the top "100 Greatest" of all time: Purple Haze, Star-Spangled Banner, Machine Gun, Little Wing, Voodoo Child (Slight Return) & All Along the Watchtower. In 1992, Hendrix was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

When Al Hendrix died in 2002, his will stipulated that Experience Hendrix, LLC was to exist as a trust designed to distribute profits to a list of Hendrix family beneficiaries. A 2004 probate lawsuit challenged the will with charges from other Hendrix family beneficiaries that Janie Hendrix, Al's adopted daughter, was improperly handling the finances. Janie & a cousin of Jimi Hendrix paid themselves exorbitant salaries & covered their mortgages & personal expenses from the company's coffers while the beneficiaries went without payment & the Hendrix Memorial went uncompleted. In early 2005, judge Ramsdell handed down a ruling that replaced Janie & Robert's role at the helm of Experience Hendrix with an independent trustee. The Memorial in Renton remains unfinished."

 I'd say the moral to this story is, no matter how bad it gets, or who abandons you, there is still enormous potential in all of us who have a dream.. Even Jimi's death was circumspect & making someone a huge Mausoleum with THEIR money does not somehow make up for the neglect & abandonment when he was here. Rest in Peace, Jimi.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Voice & Hand

Who knew how important it would be to me now that friends & family who have passed or faded away have left me their little treasures on post cards & letters; in Christmas & Birthday greetings. I was digging through old boxes the other day, cleaning out for a yard sale & like so many times before at some juncture, I was reading the words on a held page, touching & feeling the sentiments of an exciting trip, a lazy afternoon, or a milestone that was being lovingly shared with me. 

Sure, there are advantages to the immediacy of cell phones, the quick update over e-mail or sharing a photo album on Facebook. I send folks funny greeting cards virtually, am writing on my Blog right now & e-commerce is how I make my living! A real comfort to me currently are special voice mails I have saved over the last few years so I can hear my dads voice again whenever I need to.

Still, something has been lost; for me anyway. When I or someone else makes the effort to send a note or travel postcard these days, it's thrilling. I'm much more apt to read something handwritten over again, or to save it in that big, lovely box where once in awhile I still luxuriously linger with pages & pictures in piles of memories & love all around me.