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Bohemian like you: Vali Myers the Witch of Positano

Vali Myers was never going to be ordinary. Her talent, wayward spirit and shock of flame-red hair marked her out for a life less ordinary. Ordinary was nice and nice was boring and Vali Myers hated boring.

But Vali had come from ordinary. She was born in Canterbury, Sydney, in 1930 to a wireless operator father and a talented violinist mother. Her mother had given up her career with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to raise her family. Vali watched in growing horror as her mother slowly fell to pieces with the frustration of her small town life. Wives were expected to be drudges for the benefit of their husbands and nothing more. Her mother’s unraveling inspired Vali to focus on and nurture her own talents. She was good at art and loved to dance. She hated school and had difficulties with reading and writing. Her classmates thought her odd, but Vali thought them odd and frighteningly unimaginative.

She quit home at fourteen and worked in a factory to finance her ambitions to become a dancer. Vali eventually became a principal dancer with the Melbourne Modern Ballet Company. This early success confirmed her belief there was more to life than just being some man’s wife as most women her age were expected to be. She later told photographer Eva Collins:

Men always have women backing them up. But show me the bloke who back up his woman if she is an artist. They don’t like doing that, makes them feel like they’re sitting in the back seat. If a man is a real man, why does he need a woman to clean for him? He should look after himself, otherwise, he should go back to his Mummy!

At nineteen, Vali traveled to Paris where she earned a meager living dancing in cafes. For three years she lived on the streets in a hand-to-mouth existence with many of the city’s homeless youngsters. But she was free to do as she pleased and had the opportunity to mix with many of the city’s famous artists and writers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, Django Reinhart, and Jean Cocteau, with whom she often smoked opium.

This gaggle of young beatniks on the fringes of Paris attracted the interest of Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken, who chose the iconic Vali as the main character in photo-essay Love on the Left Bank (1954). Van der Elsken’s black & white photographs followed Vali as young beatnik girl “Ann” through the gangs of bohemians, musicians, and vagabonds who hung around the bars, clubs, and flophouses of St Germain-des-Prés. Vali’s distinctive look inspired a whole generation of women including Patti Smith who later described Vali as:

...the supreme beatnik chick—thick red hair and big black eyes, black boatneck sweaters and trench coats.

Though a freeform impressionistic tale, van der Elsken’s book did capture much of the life Vali was living among the “young men and girls who haunt the Left bank”:

They dine on half a loaf, smoke hashish, sleep in parked cars or on benches under the plane trees, sometimes borrowing a hotel room from a luckier friend to shelter their love. Some of them write, or paint, or dance.

Vali was dancing and painting and keeping a journal of her daily life. She was occasionally arrested as a vagabond but was usually bailed out by Jean Cocteau. During this time, she met and married Hungarian architect Rudi Rappold and for a time they lived in Vienna, Austria, and then in Positano, Italy. After Rappold’s death, Vali remained in Italy where she had gained the moniker “the Witch of Positano” because of her outsider existence. She continued to paint and write and spend time looking after the local wildlife.

In the sixties, Vali moved to London and then to New York. She was a friend and muse to Salvador Dali and became friends with the likes of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful. In 1968, Vali starred with Marianne in a little-seen film called Dope about London’s drug scene. Vali then moved to New York where she lived at the Chelsea Hotel. It was here she met Patti Smith for whom she famously tattooed a lightening fork on her knee. But Vali didn’t like New York. It was brutal, hard and false. After an aneurysm in 1994, Vali eventually returned to Australia.

With her gypsy dress, her flaming red hair and distinctive facial Maori tattoos, Vali was instantly recognizable wherever she went. But it was her outsider artwork that achieved the greater attention. Her paintings were bought by museums and galleries in America, Europe, and Australia and were collected the likes of Mick Jagger and George Plimpton.

Vali died from cancer in February 2003. She had no regrets. She had lived her life as she wanted to live it. On her deathbed she said:

I’ve had 72 absolutely flaming years. It doesn’t bother me at all, because, you know, love, when you’ve lived like I have, you’ve done it all. I put all my effort into living; any dope can drop dead. I’m in the hospital now, and I guess I’ll kick the bucket here. Every beetle does it, every bird, everybody. You come into the world and then you go.

Vali in Paris photograph by Ed van der Elsken.
See some of Vali’s artwork and more iconic photos, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The anti-communist, anti-capitalist satirical collages of hobo artist Ion Bârlădeanu

Romanian artist Ion Bârlădeanu was making collages for twenty years before the art world got hip to his work in 2007. Suddenly Bârlădeanu was supposed to have worth because someone else said he did. Bârlădeanu didn’t give a fuck. He was a hobo living in a garbage dump. He kept on doing what he was doing because that is what he does. The only thing a little recognition from a bunch of champagne-guzzling art critics meant was money to buy beer, to buy smokes, to get an apartment in Bucharest.

Born in 1946, Ion Bârlădeanu was a farmer, a stevedore, a security guard and a gravedigger before he decided to become an artist. He was homeless. He scavenged. He made collages out of whatever he could find. He was inspired by the Romanian Revolution of 1989 that deposed dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and ended 42 years of communist rule in Romania. His subject matter was the fall of communism, the failure of capitalism, and the insidious superstition of religion.

Bârlădeanu has said he never had fun making his collages because he was a down-and-out. Now his work hangs in galleries across the world. Bârlădeanu describes his satirical, politically-charged collages as film stills from as yet unmade movies.

An exhibition of Ion Bârlădeanu’s artwork is currently on show in Action, Camera at the Gallery of Everything, Lonon until June 18th.
More collages by Ion Bârlădeanu, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Rarely seen Super 8 footage from inside the apartment of Henry Darger
08:34 am


outsider art
Henry Darger

Darger Image
The author of 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 spent his now legendarily reclusive life creating weird, mesmerizing, radiant, obsessive and sometimes disturbing works of art and storytelling. His life and creative talent were wonderfully explored in 2004’s In the Realms of the Unreal directed by Jessica Yu. Darger was also the subject of a more recent 2013 biography called Henry Darger, Throw-Away Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist written by Jim Elledge.

During his difficult life, Darger spent most of his time at a janitorial job during the day and creating his art, which included over 30,000 manuscript pages in mixed media and collage often depicting strange, violent landscapes inhabited by imaginary creatures and young girls, in his almost entirely solitary spare time. The world was not aware of his singular life’s work until he moved into a nursing home in 1973 and his landlord, photographer Nathan Lerner, uncovered the treasure trove.

Perhaps because he obviously spent so much time there, interest in Darger’s modest Chicago living space has been inevitable among fans of his work.
Darger Table
Darger’s Table.  Photo by Michael Boruch.
Darger Apartment North Wall
The North Wall of Henry Darger’s Room.  Photo by Michael Boruch.
In 2008, Chicago’s Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art opened a permanent exhibit focusing on the contents of Darger’s living and working space.  From the Intuit website:

In spring 2000, Intuit took possession of the contents of artist Henry Darger’s living and working space, which was located at 851 Webster Street in Chicago. Intuit’s Henry Darger Room Collection includes tracings, clippings from newspapers, magazines, comic books, cartoons, children’s books, coloring books, personal documents, and architectural elements, fixtures, and furnishings from Darger’s original room. Darger lived in a one-room apartment in Chicago’s Lincoln Park until 1973 when he retired to a nursing facility.

In his small room—which doubled as his studio and home for close to 40 years—he worked on a large number of painted and collaged drawings that illustrated the story of the Vivian Girls, created volumes of writings, and collected hundreds of objects (shoes, eyeglasses, balls of string, etc.). The contrast between the intimate scale of the room and the staggering volume of drawings, illustrations, writings, and collections, conveys vital information about Darger’s existence and the work he created.

Opened in 2008, the goal of this permanent exhibit is to create an environment that provides a window onto Darger’s world. The installation will symbolize the stark contrasts that are so vividly portrayed in Darger’s vast and complex oeuvre. Experiencing Darger’s personal environment through the installation will provide an important link to the man who struggled relentlessly throughout his life to give expression to the polarized spectrum of humanity. The archive and material represents a vital resource and the installation will enhance the understanding and appreciation of the art of Henry Darger by providing artists, scholars, and the public access to a unique and innovative archive of study materials.

Intuit Darger Room
From the Henry Darger Room Collection of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art webpage. Photo by John Faier.
The second image on Intuit’s Henry Darger Room webpage is interactive. You can mouse around the room and zoom in on specific pieces. 

For another perspective on Darger’s living space, take a look at the silent super-8 film below shot by Coleen Fitzgibbon with assistance from Michael Thompson in the late spring of 1973 shortly after Darger’s work was discovered. The footage was meant to be archival documentation of the spare accommodations that housed Darger and his huge collection of artworks, books, collage materials and art supplies. The footage is itself dark and strange and gives an additional glimpse into the mind and world of the now celebrated artist. 

Posted by Jason Schafer | Leave a comment
Guided by Voices: The Enigmatic Visionary Art of Madge Gill

This is a guest post by Nick Abrahams

Madge Gill (1882-1961) is finally being heralded as one of England’s premier visionary artists thanks to a major exhibition of her works taking place currently at the Orleans House Gallery in Richmond, London. Her work is also the subject of a major new catalog, filled with essays (including one by Roger Cardinal, the critic who first coined the term “outsider art,” to cover the wide range of artworks created by self taught and visionary artists) and - even better! - that includes many rare pictures by Gill, most reproduced for the first time.

Madge Gill produced all her work under the influence of a spirit guide named “Myrninerest,” whom she believed was responsible for her prolific output of work. Under Myrninerest’s influence, she would often draw 100 intricate postcard sized drawings at a single sitting! Gill believed she was channeling images from an alternate reality and that the work therefore belonged to her spirit guide. To this end, she did not sell her work during her lifetime, and upon her death hordes of work was found stacked under her bed and in cupboards.

Gill’s work invariably includes female faces, staring out at us , but who these women are (self portraits? Myrninerest?) is never clear. Occasional words and phrases appear. And often heavily repetitive abstract patterns fill the background, or become the subject in themselves. Although self taught, Gill had a draftsman’s eye for composition, and the hallucinatory nature of much of the work is exquisitely delicate. Here is an example of her purely abstract work:

Although Gill seemed to have little influence on the wider art world, the work carries an amazing psychic power, and seeing the work en masse gives a glimpse of Gill’s restlessly inquisitive inner world.  It is exciting to see these works in the flesh, many for the first time being exhibited in public, and to get a glimpse of the compulsive need this woman had to make art. There is something visionary in her work that often echos elements of psychedelic art, as well as Gustav Moreau or William Blake, but with a far more obsessive focus, and a feminine lightness of touch.

So if you are in London, scoot along to Richmond to see this epic show, including the colossal “Crucifixion of the Soul,” a brightly colored and heavily drawn upon 10 meter long work on calico, here on a rare public display, taking up one entire wall of the gallery, alongside a bewilderingly range of other works by Gill, as well as a carefully curated display of other artists who were themselves visionary or mediumistic in their approach. And its free!

Loosely inspired by Madge Gill and her work, David Tibet, best known for his musical output as Current 93, now has a new musical project under the name Myrninerest. Tibet has also collaborated with Henry Boxer, one of the curators of the Orleans House Gallery show, to publish a book of 108 reproductions of some of Gill’s postcard sized drawings, reproduced at their actual size, available here.

Below, Myrninerest’s recent soundtrack for filmmaker Derek Jarman’s magical Journey To Avebury film, all shot on Super-8 back in 1972.

This is a guest post by Nick Abrahams

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Messages from the Gods: Outsider art and the voices in Augustin Lesage’s head
03:16 pm


outsider art
Augustin Lesage

Augustin Lesage (1876-1954) was a French coal miner who became a self-taught spiritualist artist. He was possibly also schizophrenic.

He began painting in 1912 at age thirty-five a year after hearing a voice while working in a coal mine in northern France. The disembodied voice told him “Un jour, tu seras peintre” (“One day, you will be a painter.”)

Already a spiritualist, while Lesage was experimenting with communicating with spirits during seances and through automatic writing, spirits reassured him that the voice he heard had been real. The voice returned and soon instructed him not only to become an artist but what specific art supplies to buy, where to find them, and what to paint. He believed that his works were dictated by spirits, specifically Leonardo da Vinci, Marius of Tyana, Apollonius of Tyana, or Marie, his little sister who died at the age of three.

A Symbolic Composition of the Spiritual World,1923

A Symbolic Composition of the Spiritual World, 1925

Lesage wrote:

Before I start to paint I never have any idea as to what I want to portray. I never have an overview of the entire work at any point of the execution. My guides tell me : ‘Do not try to understand what you’re doing.’ I surrender to their impulse.

After World War I he found a patron in Jean Meyer, the director of the Spiritualist journal La Revue Spirite and was able to quit working in the coal mine. He spent all of his time painting until his eyesight failed shortly before his death.

Many of his works, as well as others from the “Art Brut” (rough art) movement, are at the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art in Villeneuve d’Ascq, France.

Untitled, oil on canvas

Christian Delacampagne wrote (translated by blogger Emily Ann Pothast):

The first large painting of Augustin Lesage is one of the most daring in modern art. Although not, strictly speaking, non-figurative (figures both architectural and anthropomorphic abound), it explores almost all possibilities of abstraction — lyrical as well as geometric — at a time when the latter, among professional artists, was still in its infancy. They are no less ornamental and decorative than the works of Kandinsky, Lesage’s spiritual contemporary. Indeed, is the distance so great between the the Theosophy dear to the Russian artist and the Spiritualism embraced by the French? The former hearkens to Rudolf Steiner, the latter to Léon Denis.

Augustin Lesage, un messager de Dieu pas comme les autres (Augustin Lesage, a messenger of God like no other):

Via But does it float

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
A trippy tech take on Lesage
Another trippy tech take on Lesage

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
George Bush, the NUDE self-portrait!
11:41 am


George Bush
outsider art

When he left the White House, 43rd president George Bush took up painting. Yesterday, The Smoking Gun reported that Bush’s sister, Dorothy Bush, and some other family members and friends of his and his father’s, had seen their email accounts compromised. Several things, including hospital photos of George H. W. Bush, were stolen in the breach.

Also among the pilfered items the hacker, who goes by the handle “Guccifer” (nice name!) obtained, was this curious nude self-portrait of the former president in the shower.

Apparently Bush sends snaps of his works-in-progress to his sister, which makes this even weirder.

I must say, though, I’d buy this in a heartbeat. Conceptually speaking, it’s a masterpiece! Does Bush have a gallery that represents him? Get in touch!

Below, another, even sadder view into the existential horror of Bush’s existence:
Via Salon

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment