The Salubrious Nature of Art Creation

The Salubrious Nature of Art Creation

I’ve recently asked some of the artists with whom I’ve often worked to interpret the fantasy world imagined by outsider artist Henry Darger. The resulting show, Realms of the Unreal, exhibits an eclectic combination of styles and personalities in addition to beautiful work.


at left: Robert Kraiza | The First Color of the Rainbow


Most of the artists with whom I work see the world through a dark lens. We admire this quality and are attracted to each other’s aesthetics and ideas. It’s often said that what dark artwork falls into the category of the grotesque, can be eye-opening or even enlightening. The viewer, confronted with an image that exhibits a clash between what they consider to be simultaneously sublime and horrific, will struggle to make sense of what they perceive. That struggle or dissonance can cause a brilliant wiping out of preconceived ideas, allowing for new ones to present themselves, be they emotional, informational or spiritual. In creating their work, artists who specialize in grotesque work, often seek out that cathartic experience in creating their work, and hope to share it with others.

Henry Darger’s work exhibits grotesque qualities. His depictions of little girls he traced from children’s books, evoke care, love and innocence. Such feelings derived from his work are sympathetic towards his subjects, indeed, but they also cause us to reminisce about our own childhood naïvety, perhaps even reflecting to us what we might be naïve about as adults. His depictions of little girls with penises are some of the most shocking of such imagery, exhibiting a strangeness most of us are not used to perceiving. Yet, there is a strong truth to such images, which may be difficult, but beloved to those of us who are different and unaccepted in society.

Interestingly, this show has brought out a different quality of work from some of the works by the participating artists. Their lighter, more colorful sides have shown themselves, which I think is an interesting turn of events. Some of that work is below.

The entire collection of works from the show can be seen on the Gristle Gallery’s website.

Below is Max Kahan’s interpretation of Darger’s work. Entitled “And Being Was Enough” the work opens up into a very wide 5 feet of book. Much like a diary, his work for the show was cathartic.


Max Kahan | And Being Was Enough

About the book, he wrote:

Process seemed therapeutic to Darger, as it is for me.  His work seems to be an ongoing unfolding story of this therapeutic process, which seems to be why he was drawn to book format and story telling. I’m also interested in the linear quality of books as a way for the images to be seen. There is a unique way that the sequential images influence me as I make the book and view it. The accordion style also offers the opportunity to stand back with the book fully open and view the entire story in an all-inclusive way rather than compartmentalized page by page. A life can be viewed either way. When I stand back and look at Darger’s life, I see an ebb and flow of creative energy and emotional processing coming into physical form throughout his lifetime, and coming to an end as a he passes on.  I doubt it was a choice for him to create.

When I started making this book I thought about the rise and fall of creative energy, and the rise and fall of one’s life, and how we infuse energy from inside of us into the physical world. How do we find ways of being that honor our internal realms? Storytelling at it’s basic form is an interaction between various formats of communication. I used shapes, colors, textures and compositions to create a structure that would serve as a placeholder for my own internal experience as I reflected on the way Darger created and lived. I looked to Darger’s color palette and compositions for inspiration and as a way to allow for a nonverbal communion with his work. Intuitively I created compositions as I held a felt sense of what Darger’s life and work meant to me. I told stories with compositions that connected colors, shapes and space, that interlock, twist, rise and fall between the darkness before birth and the darkness after death.

Jeff Faerber | "In The Realms of the Unreal, innocence lives in the constant shadow of danger…”

Jeff Faerber | “In The Realms of the Unreal, innocence lives in the constant shadow of danger…”

Jeff Faerber’s contribution to the show is wonderfully ironic. His depiction of one of Darger’s protective beasts called Blengins towering over a crowd of innocents that look quite a lot like Darger’s own tracings, is in fact a portrait of alternative porn star Asphyxia Noir (link leads to her mostly SFW Facebook page). Faerber often paints portraits of porn actresses in this style, but his inclusion of Darger innocents provides a different viewpoint of such creatures than we might normally have.

Nicomi Nix Turner | And The World Swallows Her

Nicomi Nix Turner | And The World Swallows Her

Nicomi Nix Turner’s pieces often depict a collection of moths circling the head of the main subject of her drawings. It’s a recurring motif in her work. Enough of her fans voiced their curiosity about these halos that she responded on her Instagram:

“[I] created moth halos or nimbus’ as a way of marking certain figures in my works with my own form of denoting “Sacred Mark” almost ten years now. Ive considered this as a blessing of dusted wings.”

The spiritual nature of Turner’s common mark works quite well with her portrait of what is presumably a Vivian Girl. Here Turner has delved into Darger’s more spiritual side (he was deeply religious), exhibiting the pure nature he repeatedly described of the Vivian girls.

There is much more to see of this show. It will be on view at Gristle Gallery from September 12th to October 10th.

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