A Do it Yourself fan, Daniel Johnston [1961-2019] recorded his first pieces in the early eighties, on cassettes. After a few months travelling across the USA selling hot dogs with a group of fairground people, he settled in Austin (Texas) and set out to sell his cassettes on the street. For several years he had also taken up drawing, mainly to express his - ever unrequited - love for a certain Laurie. To this day, Laurie remains an abiding source of inspiration to him. Subject to manic-depressive bouts, he made his way through life on his own and come what may, thanks to drawing and music.
Daniel Johnston's graphic oeuvre abounds. The drawings, for the most part compulsively produced, are in felt and ball-point pens. They describe strange playlets: for instance, the staging of Johnston's childhood comic book heroes like "Captain America," "Hulk," "Casper the Ghost." These mythical figures of popular American culture wage a pitiless battle against the forces of Evil incarnated by Satan in person, or by buxom temptresses determined to distract them from the straight and narrow. Lending support to these heroes are figures of Johnston's own invention: the frog of innocence "Jeremiah" and the trepanned boxer "Joe" are two of his main alter egos. The world he depicts is all black and white: obsessively and endlessly, it abounds with allusions to Christianity, history and folk tales, all of which Johnston diverts and reclaims to his own ends. Hence, his drawings are extensions of themes intimately linked to his own daily life: they flaunt the ongoing battles he himself must carry out against his own demons.
Many exhibitions have introduced his work, among which : “Excuse me I'm Famous” (Paris 2005 / Arts Factory Gallery), “Daniel Johnston at the Clementine Gallery” 'New York, 2006), "Whitney Museum Biennial" (New York, 2006), "Love and Nightmares" (Saint-Cyprien collections, 2008), "The Devil and The Daniel" (Milan, 2008 / Antonio Colombo Gallery. In 2009, Rizzoli published an imposing monograph of more than 350 pages about his graphic work, followed by Is and Always Was, his first studio album in 7 years. In 2012, the "Wecome to my World" retrospective - co-produced by the Arts Factory gallery - was shown in prestigious venues as the Lieu Unique arts center in Nantes and the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne.
photo credits : peter juhl
english text courtesy collection de l'art brut - lausanne