The words and the singular imagination of outsider artist Henry Darger set to music by Philippe Cohen Solal and Mike Lindsay over a lush album, which carries the colors of baroque pop rich in fantastic arrangements and amazing details. OUTSIDER’s vivid hues and collages hug the reliefs of memorable melodies, evoking Divine Comedy or Sufjan Stevens at their best.
Carried by the deep voice of singer Adam Glover, OUTSIDER’s songs have a particular density and pop immediacy which owe much to the association of composers Philippe Cohen Solal (Gotan Project) and Mike Lindsay (Tunng). But they also owe a great deal to the incredible and protean work of the American outsider artist Henry Darger, revealed to the world long after his death in 1973. As if their science of melody and arrangements, their art of contrasts and Sound collages, matured over years and projects, seemed to blossom in new ways through contact with Darger’s obsessions, paintings and words. The evidence of a meeting for a highly collaborative project, where music and mental and pictorial images interact.
Henry Darger, outsider artist
Outsider art, the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of art brut theorized by Jean Dubuffet, is the fruit of self-taught creators who have been marginalized by poverty, madness or the accidents of life. Their work is born on the fringes of artistic circles. The one developed throughout his life (1892-1973) by Henry Darger was not discovered until after his death, in the stuff of a room he occupied at 851 Webster Avenue in Chicago: an epic novel of 15,000 pages and more than 300 large-format paintings which are its variation. Mixed media, decals and collages, are used to evoke an endless war on an imaginary planet, unleashed by the rebellion of children held in slavery, led by the “Vivian Girls”. A corpus nourished by obsessions, a deep religiosity and a shocked history (a childhood spent in a sordid orphanage and a relatively lonely life), discovered in 1973 by Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner, the owners of the apartment rented by Darger. A work that the couple will bring to the attention of the world and which will find an important echo in the world of the arts.
Encounters and chances
In 2003, Philippe Cohen Solal did not yet hear about this story. He was on tour in the United States with the Gotan Project when a friend suggested he invite a certain Kiyoko Lerner to his concert in Chicago. A big fan of tango, the woman invites her in return for tea at her place. The day before the meeting, Cohen Solal visits the American Folk Art Museum in New York and comes to a halt in front of a work by Henry Darger. On the cartel, these few words: “Courtesy of Kiyoko Lerner”. Not only has he just experienced an aesthetic shock like little in a lifetime, but he also has an appointment the very next day with a stranger who is closest to the work. It is the discovery and privileged access to a work but also the beginning of a friendship and a dialogue, of which the OUTSIDER project is today the fruit. The idea of writing pieces inspired by this universe both childish and violent has been trotting in Philippe Cohen Solal’s mind for a while when Kiyoko tells him that Darger himself wrote songs, of which only the songs remain. texts. To write them, Darger used the same technique as for his pictorial work: he sampled, sampled, took religious hymns and changed the words, the characters, adapting these songs to his story.
A dream team
The exhibition that the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris is dedicating to Henry Darger in 2015 is the occasion of a first trial run for Philippe Cohen Solal, who asks his friend Mike Lindsay, from the English group Tunng, to compose and together produce songs around Darger’s lyrics. In a few days, in London, they recorded an EP in collaboration with the young singer Adam Glover and the multi-instrumentalist Hannah Peel (The Magnetic North), who signed beautiful brass and string arrangements. It’s that (small) dream team that can be found on the OUTSIDER album today. With the idea of telling Darger musically, by embracing the popular form of song but also by being faithful to his way of working: ”In his work, we see the scotch: we had to hear the scotch and the artisan side ”, Explains Philippe Cohen Solal, who drew a lot from his collection of vinyl sound recordings, including collecting old American ads and weather reports (Darger was obsessed with the weather: in his diary, he noted the weather every day. he did and compared it with the weather forecast heard on the radio). The beauty of OUTSIDER’s songs arises from this collision between the opulence of melodies, choirs and arrangements and the strangeness of these atmospheres where analog effects, archives and not always identifiable sounds jostle. Like a varnish that cracks to emphasize even more the beauty of Hark Hark or Bring Them In, like a worry that dulls thunder (Who Will Follow Angelinia?) Or cannons (We Sigh for the Child Slaves).
OUTSIDER, a protean project
This sublime baroque pop album is the heart of an ambitious device, which will combine a film, a series of podcasts and online events, in connection with the major institutions that have shown Darger’s work, starting with the Musée d ‘Art Moderne de Paris, which inaugurates, in autumn 2020 and for a period of six months, an entire room dedicated to the work of the outsider artist. “With this project, I want to question the need for art, for recognition, for the exhibition of one’s life,” explains Philippe Cohen Solal. “Darger has created a work all his life without showing it to anyone, which today influences many people, in different artistic fields. At a time when it has become so important to show every thing you do, that appeals to me a lot. Darger is anti-our time, like most outsider artists. ”
words by Vincent Théval, translated from French.