So I was talking to Lord 16 about Doom Patrol, which lead me to introduce him to the work of Richard Dadd, and then Luscious and I were watching Red Dragon, the film about Thomas Harris’ inability to distinguish between two similarly named William Blake paintings, and well, here we are: five artists who left the comforts of sanity behind to go chasing after their own interdimensional butterflies, for which we are all the very much better.
5 for Friday: Go on, then. Chase Those Waterfalls.
The Ghost of a Flea (1820)
Poet, painter, printmaker, genius. If you’re not deeply in love with one or other of his artforms, or all, then you’ve not been paying attention. For me, it’s his paintings. They’re genuinely incredible: fantastical works of depth and horror that draw you in with a million details and inexplicable moments, and simply refuse to let you go. Once seen, they are never forgotten or dismissed. Happily married, a solid member of the professional class, and an active member of the various Societies and Academies that proliferated in his circles, it’s almost heresy these days to suggest that this beloved member of the Greatest Englishmen Of All Time Club might be a teensy, you know…. off his nut.
But: his regular hallucinations are well documented. Less so, but hardly secret, is the fact that he developed and lived by his own personal religion based around figures he had seen while hallucinating. The strains of Oppositional Defiant Disorder can be seen in many of his stances and behaviours when placed in proximity to any sort of authority. His interpretations of Christianity to ally it to sexual practices far outside the cultural norms of the time are extant in his writings. You can interpret him as a man ahead of his time, as a visionary born two centuries too soon, and he is definitely that. But he’s also a man who allowed hallucinations to dictate the way he lived his life, and that’s not necessarily normal.
Whatever you think, he is undoubtedly one of the greatest artistic geniuses that my country of origin has ever gifted the world, and I am a slavish lover of his work. Visit The Blake Archive to bask.
Crazy Jane (1855)
Another of my favourite artists. And he seemed such a nice young boy: an award-winning draughtsman, illustrator of Shakespeare, exhibitor at the Royal Academy, international traveller, reincarnation of Osiris… ah. And yes, there was that whole stabbing his father to death because he believed old Dad was the Devil disguised in human flesh thing.
Up until the age of 25, he was destined to be one of those impossibly perfectly English Englishmen who used talent and privilege to define the aesthetics of the age. After 25, well, apart from being confined in Bethlem Hospital and being undoubtedly deeply schizophrenic… he still became one of the most brilliant artists of the age, and frankly, of any age. Crazy Jane (above) is my favourite Dadd piece, but it’s impossible to view, say, The Faerie Feller’s Master Stroke in anything other than awe and wonder. He is an inspiration, a genius, and a classically tragic Victorian figure. You can read much more about him here.
Two Old Ones Eating Soup (1819-1823)
A perfectly acceptable artist, popular and critically acclaimed, court painter to King Charles III of Spain and all his nobby friends. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, you could turn 46, go deaf, suffer dizzy spells and weakness on the limbs, and start displaying all the symptoms of early onset dementia. You could get it in your head to spend years painting what’s been described as pretty much the first openly pornographic nude in Western Art. You could become openly and aggressively misanthropic, and you could pretty much withdraw from all public life to concentrate on images of war horrors and supernatural monstrosities.
His early works are safe, traditional, and frankly, unless you’re a student of art history, boring. His later works may be the result of madness, but they’re also amongst some of the most compelling and fascinating images ever committed to canvas. His career is laid out at his online archive.
My Eyes in the Time of Apparition (1913)
A successful electrician with a wife, family, and a love of travelling, Natterer suffered an apocalyptic hallucination at the age of 39, in which over 10,000 images of the Last Judgement assailed him over the course of half an hour. Stricken by anxiety and schizophrenia, he spent the rest of his life being shuttled from one mental instiution to another, claiming he was the illegitemate child of Napoleon Bonaparte and trying to transcribe his visions to paper. His works are precise, ordered, easy to follow… and disturbing as all buggery. You can find several of them here.
Bryan Lewis Saunders
Self-portrait on drugs (Year unknown)
On the surface, there’s nothing too disturbed about the idea of self-medicating and then drawing a self-portrait while under the influence. 18 drugs in 11 days, to be precise. 91 self-portraits. Percocet, mushrooms, valium… bath salts… lighter fluid… computer duster… wait, what?
Which is nothing, really. Saunders has been documenting himself via a self-portrait every day since 1995. More than 10,000 self-portraits in notebook after notebook, detailing his journey through mental hospitals, menial jobs, performance art, stand-up tragedy, obsession and disconnection. And obsession is the word: he’s drawn himself so many times he now maintains a database to keep track of how many self-portraits depict a headache, an anger fit, a good day, and on and on. He’s spent time replicating blindness and deafness, trailed across the wilderness, done the drug thing… all in an obsessive search to record himself in as many circumstances as possible.
He’s open about his mental struggles, and like everything else, documents it at his website, including dream narratives and somniloquies.