Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Henry Darger vs. Feels

I remember first being introduced to Henry Darger (April 12th 1892 - April 13th 1973) last year in class, and can recall thinking how similar his work was to one of my favorite albums/album cover art combo. As many of you may know, the image on the left is the cover artwork for Animal Collective’s album ‘Feels.’ The image on the right is an untitled illustration by Henry Darger for a manuscript he wrote. The illustration is made with watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing and collage on pieced paper. The artist for the cover of ‘Feels,’ Dave Portner was a huge fan of Darger, but did not intend on creating something so similar to his style. His story of his creative process was that he found a children’s educational guide on the street and thought the images fit the lyrics and the sounds of the album perfectly. He cut them up and used them like how Darger would teach himself to draw: tracing similar images and magazine cut outs. Before I go any further, I should explain a little more about Darger, and then you might see the connection between the album cover and Darger’s work. Henry Darger was a very odd character. He lived his life in isolation, worked as a custodian in Chicago, and wrote, read, and created illustrations behind closed doors. Discovered diary entries reveal his struggles, rage, and lonliness. Darger never had a normal life. His childhood was traumatized by the death of his mother after giving birth to his only sister, who was given up for adoption shortly after. He was then forced to live with his father, who died some time after. Darger was left to be institutionalized. Although he kept himself extremely isolated, he still held some connections with the current outside world by reading comics strips and magazines which he used as a source of most of his visual imagery. He was also heavily influenced by things he read, such as Frank Baum’s Oz, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as well as stories of fantasy, oppressed childhood slaves (paying much attention to their rebellion and liberation). Henry is most famous for his 145 page manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, which included drawings and watercolor paintings to illustrate the story. His images comprise of a blend of childhood innocence and violence. The illustrations of the Vivian Girl heroines may have been an outlet for his intense emotions: yearning of a lost sister, messed up childhood, rage, and sexual frustration. Now back to the album ‘Feels.’ The album’s title is pretty self explanatory. ‘Feels’ is all about a variety of intense emotion, with lyrics complimented by childlike, giddy, and trippy sounds...which is why Portner felt the images he used illustrated the album perfectly. It’s cute, yet disturbing at the same time.

1 comment:

  1. Being a fan of the band myself, I never put the album art and Darger's work together, even though I was aware of both. So although Porter's work here is very similar to Darger's, it stands alone quite well, especially considering the correlation between the imagery and the music.