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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Exhibition: Daniel Johnston and James Unsworth

Vegas Gallery, London. November 15th - January 12th

Written by Jayne Helliwell

Daniel Johnston has bi-polar depression. He has a unrequited love for Laurie Allen. A girl he met whilst at Art College and whom he idealizes and uses as his muse for his music. He also sings of Christianity, Captain America, Casper the Friendly Ghost, the Devil and has fixation with number 9. He was born in 1961. He was there when MTV boomed and in 1985 they did a special on Austin, which brought Johnston to a broader consciousness. Record shop started selling his cassettes which he had largely given away. He was hospitalised when he wrestled the controls form his father who was flying the plane in which they were travelling. In 1991 whilst hospitalised he was able to air his music where he sang of Mountain Dew and requested Yoko Ono produced his music. Kurt Cobain loved him. Wore his t-shirt on TV and his live performances are the most emotional and affecting you will ever witnessed, with each line you feel like you are watching some crumble. He is an unassuming genius.

Johnston never intended for drawings to be sold. They are his cartoons about his personal battle between good and evil, like missing frames of a much longer story. So the fact that they are now adorning the walls of galleries far and wide must be bemusing for him. Like when he painted the “Hi, How Are You?” frog, also known as Jeremiah the Innocent on the Austin Sound Exchange music store. It was initially going to be torn down when the shop closed but public outcry meant that $50,000 was spent to save it. His work is enjoyed. They are witty cartoons with characters like Joe The Boxer with his head cut off. He references from Greek sculptures that have been defaced though time in art books he get from the library. He doesn’t want to insult girls too much though, so he draws them with heads. He is Joe The Boxer. He is battling Vile Corrupt in his drawings, Vile Corrupt being is his alter ego. He is all of America’s ideologies residing in one effected fellow. His life in part hiding and consuming of comics and popular America culture combined with poetic and intuitive nature has made art wholey pure in intent but riddled with excessive certitude and fundamentalist rigor. I am not arguing that Johnston’s drawings convey the purest most infinite beauty but like Johnston once said ‘–if you’re not entertained, depression will get you.’

Alongside Daniel Johnston’s work in this exhibition is that of James Unsworth, I suppose a rather more together version of Daniel Johnston, whose work is darker than Johnston’s visually, dense and macabre. He uses print to develop his pen and ink drawing into something even more forceful. He is destined for seminal. His work is honest, dark and gruesome, which although some won’t admit is work we can all relate to sometimes. In short go see this show.

Johnston’s drawings were also featured in the 2006 Whitney Biennial. His artwork is shown in galleries around the world, including exhibits in London’s Aquarium Gallery (April 28-May 20, 2006) and New York’s Clementine Gallery (March 16-April 15, 2006). Unsworth has had previous shows at Crimes Town Gallery, Atlantis Gallery, The Boys Hall and NOGgallery.

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