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« on: October 22, 2008, 12:48:52 PM »

Daniel Johnston proves to be a demon sketcher
by MARK POWELL - Thursday, October 16, 2008

'It's clear from many of these works that Daniel [Johnston] has been through hell in his life,' notes Red Wire's Joshua Tennant of the gallery's imminent show. 'For those pieces to have their full impact, I don't think any prior knowledge of him or his music is necessary.'

The 47-year-old Texas native Daniel Johnston has been many things in his life - notably an underground indie superstar and a man whose battle with mental illness informs his work - but, as Jeff Feuerzeig's 2005 documentary, The Devil And Daniel Johnston, showed with great empathy and joy, his obsession with making art has always been the one real constant.

'Daniel is most famous for his music,' Tennant concedes, 'but after the documentary and his recent exhibitions, particularly the 2006 Whitney Biennial in New York, his art is becoming increasingly popular. We purposely selected a large sample to reflect the sheer volume of his output. Each work acts as a piece in the jigsaw of Daniel's life and, while fans will be able piece together evidence of his loves, losses and personal struggles, the amount of stuff we're showing here makes any prior knowledge of him less crucial.'

A tale as tragic, romantic and star-studded as Johnston's - the archetypal cult hero - can easily lead to unrealistic appraisals of an individual's talent. It's eminently clear that Johnston is no New York Academy Of Art graduate: his childlike, cartoonish sketches create a muddled dream world populated chiefly by such recurrent motifs as Captain America, disembodied eyeballs, Casper The Friendly Ghost and, of course, his iconic Jeremiah The Innocent frog character. The latter was made famous at the 1992 MTV Music Awards, when Kurt Cobain's T-shirt bore the now-legendary cover art for Hi, How Are You?, Johnston's best-known album.

'Daniel's considered an outsider artist and musician,' Tennant points out, 'so it's difficult to judge his work by the usual criteria. But it's always very personal, with a rawness that reflects the trouble he's had with mental instability. His life shines through in everything he does, and his complete devotion to art is outstanding. In fact, the hardest part of this for us has been figuring out how to do the work justice. We're a very DIY operation and an exhibition this important is new territory for us. We've been fans of Daniel's music, which is often played in the studio, and it's so intertwined with his art that you're likely to be into both if you're into either.'

Oct 18 until Nov 2, Red Wire, Carlisle Building, 69 Victoria Street, Liverpool, Thu to Sun noon to 6pm, free. Tel: 07972 140683. www.redwireredwire.com

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