Dargerism and Robyn O'Neil: A Q&A
I asked one of the artists in the exhibition, Robyn O'Neil, to join me for a Q&A about influence. This is the first of three parts. Part two is here. All but the last part was conducted by email. [At left is O'Neil's 2005 These Moving Bodies, These Numb Processions.]
MAN: Artists are often wary of 'influence shows.' There's rarely a specific and direct relationship between two artists -- that is, good artists absorb a lot more than one or two artists as they determine what kind of work they're going to make. And then they often add lots of other stuff from other places before making work. So participating in a show as specific as "Dargerism" could be considered a bit of a risk. Did you have any trepidation about the whole idea?
Robyn O'Neil: I know there were artists who were asked to be a part of the exhibition that were concerned with that notion. That perhaps this would mean people would think their work is too derivative. My position is that anyone that had that concern probably had reason to worry.
As for me, It honestly never occurred to me to be uptight about it. I'm always breaking things down. It was as simple as, "Well, my work is certainly influenced by Darger and I know I'm not alone... I can't wait to see who else Brooke has noticed in relation to Darger." To me, this doesn't mean my work is derivative. It doesn't mean my work is a tribute. It means that there are particular artists who, when I've digested them, have left a piece of themselves in me. This happens at times when certain artists meld with my chemical makeup for whatever reason. With Darger it was the repetitive figures, re-occurring characters, catholicism, weather, and the apocalypse. Also, a cinematic scope.
MAN: Speaking of Darger specifically, do you remember when you 'discovered' his work, and what in it you responded to? [At right: Darger's At Sunbeam Creek...]
RO'N: I first saw Darger's work in a small catalogue when I was in undergraduate school. I was about twenty years old. My professor handed it to me and I was quieted. I [flet] I had just discovered work that stood apart from anything I had previously seen, and that included a great deal of 'outsider' work. I found Darger to be more individualistic and more genuine. Also more beautiful. I know people can question and question that word 'genuine,' but I think at heart, we all know what it means. And most of us know it when we see it.
I think the most important thing I understood about the work was that he found a way to visually narrate a story that would never get old. It's a labyrinthine effort with infinite twists and turns. Great art should baffle, but how often does that truly happen? When images bewilder and quiet, they resonate forever.
Continued: Part two.
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