Nov 19

Daniel Johnston | Love Makes Me Sad

True love will find you in the end
You'll find out just who was your friend
Don't be sad, I know you will,
But don't give up until
True love will find you in the end
This is a promise with a catch
Only if you're looking can it find you
'Cause true love is searching too
But how can it recognize you
Unless you step out into the light?
Don't be sad I know you will
But don't give up until
True love finds you in the end.

-Daniel Johnston, lyrics from True Love Will Find You in the End

Lisa Kehler Art + Projects is thrilled to present the first Canadian solo show for acclaimed Texas-based artist and musician, Daniel Johnston.  Love Makes Me Sad includes 13 drawings centering on the theme of unrequited love. The subject is something Johnston has religiously addressed since he first starting making art and music in the 1980s.

 The focus of Johnston’s unrequited love is that of Laurie Allen, a friend from school who ended up marrying an undertaker (an interesting story on its own). She would, unwillingly, become Johnston’s muse for nearly 30 years as he penned countless songs and drew her likeness with even more fervor. This exhibition features a diverse collection of Johnston’s drawings ranging from 1995 to 2012.

 Equally fascinating as the drawings are the details of the artist’s life.  Diagnosed as manic depressive and bipolar, his life has been a rather consistent battle of maintaining some sense of survival equilibrium. Being continually cared for by his aging parents has enabled him to keep making music and art all of these years. The trajectory of Johnston’s career reads in waves, attracting a deep and diverse mix of supporters along the way. His music was featured in the cult classic Harmony Korine film, Kids; he performed with Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth; his music has been covered by Beck and Wilco, while Kurt Cobain famously sported his Hi! How Are You t-shirt in the 90s. In 2006 he was the subject of Jeff Feuerzeig’s award-winning documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston. In that same year, his drawings were included in the Whitney Biennial, curated by Chrissie Iles, curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Philippe Vergne, senior curator of visual arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as a major solo exhibition at Clementine Gallery in Chelsea.

 We can easily slip into the mindset that because Johnston suffers with mental illness that somehow the work is more ‘pure’. This happens regularly in music (Skip Spence, Roky Erikson,  even Brian Wilson), but is a supremely prevalent context for appreciating and addressing ‘outsider’ art. Think of Henry Darger, Adolf Wolflii, Bill Traylor, Judith Scott, etc. The work holds a place in the art world as a kind of true art. There is undoubtedly something sincere in Johnston’s drawings and his deceptively simplistic lyrics, but Johnston noticed early on that people craved his erratic behaviour while performing, and systematically ate up all which he could offer. There is intention here, clearly. There is a sense of self-respect, and a touch of self-indulgence that adds a level of confidence to his colossal body of work.


Daniel Johnston | Love Makes Me Sad, will open October 14 and run until November 20. There will be an opening reception on Friday, October 14 from 5 – 7 pm.