Daniel Johnston, the outsider who crossed the barrier

Dies at 58-year-old singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston, the titan of the pure feelings Daniel Johnston (California, 1961 - Austin, 2019) it could have been, per

Daniel Johnston, the outsider who crossed the barrier
Dies at 58-year-old singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston, the titan of the pure feelings

Daniel Johnston (California, 1961 - Austin, 2019) it could have been, perfectly, one of the characters that Diane Arbus (1923-1971) was portraying. Your figure would not have escaped the lens of the photographer, obsessed with capturing the essence of the "outsiders", of the weird, the freaky, and honest inhabitants of this cabaret burlesque that we call life.

Born in Sacramento in 1961, Johnston spent more than half his life practicing the art from the periphery . Diagnosed like bipolar , your mental disorder he remained for a time hidden in the shadow of the disease , struggling to get out to the surface, but unable to quell the demons that blinded. Until the art was imposed on the (sometimes) useless wisdom that dominates the day-to-day.

The result? A unclassifiable work -not to mention his record production - which in 2014 was collected in a magnificent book graphic. Edited for the Sixth Floor, "Daniel Johnston" contains all the visual production of the american artist, with more than a hundred works are accompanied by texts of Philippe Vergne , director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (Moca), artist Harvey Pekar , and musician Jad Fair .

Its protagonists are the usual characters of the universe Johnston : Joe Boxer , a common man fighting against his demons; Gasparín , the ghost-friendly; the Man light Bulb , superhero redeemer; the type of underwear spotted, one of the first alter ego of the artist; the frog Jeremiah , which symbolizes innocence through their dilated pupils; Sassy Fras , the cat is indeterminate; the Duck, of good heart, Frankenstein, the Hulk, King Kong... and so many other beasts of multiple eyes, creatures satanic that in reality are good monsters who are fighting against his disability social .

Daniel Johnston, during a concert - AFP

The same that she was his creator, that he started to draw so as to be able to exchange their "works" (then, mere scribbles colored papers scattered) by albums and comics . His arrival to the world of art, say, was casual, but with time those same works, the more (in)adapted, you would end up hanging from the walls of the Whitney Museum of New York and cotizándose at amazing prices.

As Johnston explained in the book, which contains fragments of a conversation that the editors of Rizzoli were with him before the performance they would offer in Philadelphia on February 22, 2008, "the art should be disseminated, why not?". Little given to granting a interviews for obvious reasons, Johnston sinceraba in a pub close to the Trocadero of the american city, while enjoying a dish of "fish and chips".

"Not everyone will go to the museum, or maybe you're going a day to see something and already is. Maybe you come back later and the piece is not already there. If you have the book, you can forever enjoy, you can crop, frame, and hang its pages on the wall [warning: do not do this at home with this book, would be committing a sin], you can do what you want", was justified when asked by the publishing your work .


Honest and passionate. As the song lyrics , the same that one day was surprised to Kurt Cobain, responsible for involuntary Daniel Johnston jump to stardom. The lead singer of Nirvana pulled on a t-shirt that he wore reflected the frog Jeremiah to receive your prize MTV in 1991... and the myth was born.

Is a " Sancho Panza, who has been divorced from Don Quixote because it has understood the emptiness, the vanity, the self-indulgence and, ultimately, the futility of such a character," explains Vergne in the book. For him, Daniel Johnston is "the figure par excellence of the marginal lonely", while "you don't need the "establishment" of art, although, with all security, the "establishment" of art needs to learn from him and his independence fierce". That's why Vergne is placed in the "pantheon of misfits cultural", those who "have been projected to themselves and to their contributions to the world since the underground ".

Daniel Johnston, in full action - ABC

drawings Daniel Johnston are, in the judgment of the director of Moca, "guided by something pragmatic, and translate a sensitivity naked and sophisticated". In fact, the nuggets of text that accompany Joe the Boxer or the Man Bulb are statements, "frank, simple, and seem to operate in a level of universal truth, one that questions life and death, love, violence and loneliness". Raw quality, framed in the category of the grotesque, able to bring out of the "coma perceptive and cognitive of the culture of the masses".

And is that, as the Johnston acknowledged, "if in life you see beyond the innocence, if you see more negative, pornography, violence or other horrible things, this would end up affecting after thinking about it a lot". What somebody said that I adored Dali and to Picasso ("I like all the great") and that, as a child, I studied in detail every art book that fell into his hands.

Daniel Johnston - ABC

That was long before Jack Kirby , creator of Captain America , and James Thurber, cartoonist of "New Yorker", to become their main reference. Before, also, that the filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig to shoot "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (2005), fantastic and crude documentary on the life and work of the californian (one of the sequences tells how crashed a small plane in which he was riding with his father). Even before the artist to be cautioned by the Police in New York after painting the christian symbol of the fish in the walls that surround the Statue of Liberty .

Evidence of that, as he warns Harvey Pekar in the book, " Daniel Johnston is not great because you have bipolar disorder, but in spite of it." An artist, in the words of Vergne, "it is not an intellectual or an idiot, and that at all times amounts from as low as to fall from the top." But not before asking: "Hi, how are you?".

Date Of Update: 12 September 2019, 19:00