1) JAMES ENSOR
There are so many reasons to love this paintings, so I’ll just mention a few:
One, it’s at the Museum of Modern Art, so I can visit it whenever I want.
Two, it’s really creepy. The grotesquely distorted faces, with painted on smiles, seem a little desperate, or even manic, but there Death sits, the belle of the ball, in a fine lady’s hat adorned with a yellow flower. She is unmoved by the others, but stares directly at the viewer. She seems to have an aura of knowing amusement, letting the viewer know his or her ultimate fate.
Third is the beauty of the paint. Ensor’s strokes are, in some places, so delicate. His treatment of the fabrics that adorn the masks is a testament to his skill as a draftsman. In some areas, the canvas is visible between the brushstrokes. In other places, the paint is laid on thickly, as if it were applied with a palate knife.
Fourth is the clunky composition. Ensor doesn’t give the viewer lovely vistas to move the eye away from what looks like a macabre cocktail party. There’s no sense of space, just a blank expanse of chromatic grays suggesting a kind of purgatory. Finally, there is a ghost figure that lives in the left side of the painting, a faint sketch of a man who seems to have a terrified look on his face. He is already gone, and is as lifeless and ineffective as the masks.
(James Ensor, Masks Confronting Death, Oil on Canvas, 1888)
Another favorite of mine by Ensor is The Tribulations of Saint Anthony, which pays homage to Hieronymus Bosch’s painting of the same title:
(James Ensor, The Tribulations of Saint Anthony, Oil on Canvas, 1887)
I don’t remember the first time I saw Baseman’s work. It was probably in an issue of Art in America or Artforum. Just a few weeks ago, however, as I was browsing the shelves at Forbidden Planet, I came across Dying of Thirst, a catalog of one of Baseman’s exhibitions. It was so cute–yet so disturbing–that I just had to buy it.
Cover of Book "Dying of Thirst" by Gary Baseman, Copyright 2008
In the introduction, Holly Miers says “Cute plus sex, you might say, equals creepy.” She goes on to explain that Baseman’s work is all about desire, and all of it’s ooziness.
To give you an idea of what’s inside the book, here’s another image:
Gary Baseman, The Hills of Creamy Goodness, from the Book "Dying of Thirst"
3) HENRY DARGER
Henry Darger was an outsider artist. The term “outsider” refers to a lack of formal training as an artist.
Very little is known about Darger. Almost no one knew him personally, and he lived alone, working as a janitor. He never socialized, and kept to himself.
Alone in his room, however, Darger had created a world unto itself. He wrote what amounted to a 15,000 page typewritten epic entitled “The Story of the Vivian Girls,” and illustrated the text with 300 drawings. The work is a fascinating journey into the mind of a lonely and damaged man.
The Andrew Edlin Gallery has an excellent biography of Darger, along with several samples of his work. You can get to it by clicking here.
Here is a sample of some of Darger’s work:
Henry Darger, Child Headed Whiplash-Tail..., Watercolor collage, carbon, paper 24x106.5", 20th Century (exact date unknown)
Henry Darger, "Idyllic Landscape With Children," Watercolor collage, carbon, paper. 24x106.5", 20th century (exact date unknown)
If you are interested in finding out more about Henry Darger, check out Jessica Yu’s excellent documentary, In the Realms of the Unreal.