By JAMES D. CAMPBELL, January 2020
Daniel Erban was a self-taught artist who lived and worked in Montreal. He lost many family members in the Holocaust and this deeply influenced his work, which expresses a deeply personal and even obsessive response to the whole wounded madhouse of our time.
A selection of his work by Galerie Robert Poulin of Montreal is featured at the Outsider Art Fair and brings his feverish vision to a wider public.
Erban was a consummate draughtsman and the power of his drawn line lies in its singular expressiveness. He was, throughout his career, an advocate for exploring the dark side of human nature. His litanies of pure horror are akin to those that haunt us at the very periphery of dreams and nightmares. His images of violence and dynamism well up from some deep well, inchoate and unsettling, like premonitory dreams of the end of a cycle. His imagery is hugely cathartic.
His body of work shares much with that of Viennese Actionism. That movement was a transgressive and violent movement of the1960s to develop "performance art" with a singularly destructive ethos. Its principal participants were Günter Brus, Otto Mühl, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler.
Daniel Erban died in 2017. He participated in over two hundred solo exhibitions and many international printmaking biennales. His works are included in private and public collections throughout Canada and in Europe, as well as collections from the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Edmonton Art Gallery, and the University of New Brunswick.
His work is a call for empathy. It is morally responsible work in a morally irresponsible and bankrupt world on the brink. His bold, graphic depictions of severing, hanging, vomiting, and obliterating brutality are unavoidably understood as rooted in the ineluctable condition of being here – of being, that is, in a world. His work is Socratically honest and, if it seems suffused with extreme violence, supernatural horror and the “uncanny,” it is a tribute to his indomitable nature, his refusal to compromise, to stand down. His is truly an uncompromising portrait of existential darkness. WM
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James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.