Art People: Dame Darcy just wasn't made for these times | Calendar | Chicago Reader

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Art People: Dame Darcy just wasn't made for these times


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If time machines existed, says Los Angeles-based artist and provacateur Dame Darcy, she'd be back in the Victorian era in a flash. In this day and age, she says, "I'm a specialty item."

Best known for her 12-year-old comic, Meat Cake--in which she heaps melodramatic quantities of violence, romance, and supernatural confrontation on cads, cards, princesses, waifs, wenches, and helpless animals--and her frilly, morbid illustrations for magazines and record labels, Darcy also handcrafts tiny ceramic dolls with real hair, plays the singing saw and banjo, reads palms, and acts in silent films. Last Halloween, Ten Speed Press published her first book, Frightful Fairytales, a collection of spooky, wicked yarns set in a glamorous fictional amalgam of the Elizabethan, Victorian, and Jazz ages.

While she doesn't think modern life is wholly inferior to the past, she's concerned by what she sees as the lack of morality that underlies this country's dependence on oil and technology. Though her comics, stories, and general lifestyle can be viewed as sheer escapism--she likes to cast spells and play with dolls, and she never, ever wears pants--she says she's tuned into the certainty of a pending apocalypse, when the U.S. is bombed and "society as we know it will fall apart."

The latest issue of Meat Cake--inspired by an ill-timed visit Darcy made to New York in September 2001--is blacker and more violent than its predecessors. On September 10, while sleeping in an apartment in Brooklyn that had a view of the twin towers, she says she had a dream about Pompeii. "There were white ashes everywhere," she says, "and the next morning I woke up to the same image."

But though all her comics contain more than a speck of cruelty--a mermaid traps men in ice, a man stabs his lover, a little girl falls down a well--in the end adversity is always overcome. The protagonist marries or acquires a windfall, and, by living life well, gets revenge on her tormentors. Darcy says that the more she realizes that money controls the world, and that her lack of an "adult-style income" restricts her to a hand-to-mouth existence, the less sure she feels that love can conquer all. But through her art, she says, "I'm hoping to learn to believe it does."

Currently Dame Darcy's on tour in support of her latest album, My Eyes Have Seen the Glory, an as-yet unstaged musical about September 11. On Friday, March 28, at 8 PM, she's showing some of her paintings and dolls and will perform (on banjo, with guitar accompaniment by a friend named Skippy) at the Butcher Shop, 1319 W. Lake. There's a suggested donation of $5; call 773-771-7017 for more information. At 3 PM on Sunday, March 30, she'll read excerpts from Frightful Fairytales at Quimby's, 1854 W. North. It's free; call 773-342-0910.

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