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Sometime in the mid-1980s, local artist Garth Danielson decided he'd had enough. Our televised culture of cuteness, he decided, had gone too far. What threw him over the edge, specifically, was a cloying colony of small, blue creatures then inhabiting a show on Saturday mornings and proliferating in figurine form everywhere. We're talking about Smurfs. "They were just kind of icky, and they don't have good grammar," Danielson recollects with something like a leer. At first glance this 45-year-old Minneapolitan might be mistaken for a close relative of Jerry Garcia: the graying beard and shoulder-length hair, the thickening waistline that jiggles when he's amused. Though the Smurfs have long been exiled from television and store shelves--replaced by generations of Rugrats and Teletubbies--Danielson had found his foil, and in a sense, his muse. Garth Danielson is the killer of Smurfs.
The macabre series started out innocently enough: Danielson needed some blue self-hardening clay, and Smurf modeling kits were cheap. On a lark he decided to fabricate one of the three-inch models. It might have ended there if Danielson's girlfriend Karen Trego had not decided to put a spike through its blue head. "I said, 'Now that's funny,'" Danielson recalls. "So we made about 20 or 30 of them and gave them away as Christmas presents."
Heartened that the dead Smurfs had proved quite popular among his friends, Danielson and Trego began to expand upon the idea. (Trego was Danielson's chief collaborator until she died in 1990.) Some of the sculptures are simple, such as a Snoopy figurine ramming his skateboard into a Smurf's chest. Others are elaborate little dungeons of torture, such as "Mad Scientist's Coffee Break." Here, a crazed doctor sits in his lab, blood smeared on his face, relaxing while holding a cup of coffee. Around him are Smurf corpses, the centerpiece being a Smurf stretched out onto a gurney with a needle injected into his arm. In any given piece, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against Smurfanity may or may not be present, but we always see the victims. And judging by their wide-open, blissed-out eyes, the poor things never knew what hit them.
As Danielson walks from the couch to the dining room table--passing numerous sci-fi paraphernalia and action figures on the way--he cannot contain his excitement about "June 1990." Perhaps the work marks him as a true visionary: An ode to the collapse of Smurf fame, it was created several years before NBC mercifully canceled the show. Set in a miniature living room, the piece features a houseguest, Pac Man, sitting on a couch, blood running down the yellow sphere of his face. The coffee table in front of him holds a half-finished game of Chinese checkers and a box of tranquilizers (props that were easily found at a local doll-house supplier). On the floor is the body of a dead Smurf and copies of tiny magazines whose headlines scream: "Pac Who?" and "Smurfette Dies."
"This happened after the Smurf and Pac Man had both fallen out of favor and weren't popular anymore," Danielson explains. "And in a drunken, drugged-out fit, the Smurf put an ax in the Pac Man's head, and then shot himself. It was a murder-suicide pact. They've lost their fame, and the only girl in the village has died. They have nothing left to live for anymore."
Recently, Danielson has been branching out from the merely gory--the Smurfs in White Castle hamburger buns, for instance, which he sold at a Minneapolis sci-fi convention. (Strangely, no one ever bought the sculpture of a Smurf nailed to a crucifix.) Though his medium--mass Smurficide--remains the same, he has started to address more literary themes. In "Mickey's Heart of Darkness," for instance, the mighty rodent, sporting a pith helmet, stands along a riverbank by an overturned canoe. The shores are littered with tiny blue bodies. "Mickey is going upriver and he encounters a bunch of Smurfs," Danielson says, "and he has to kill them. It's like a cathartic event for Mickey." Mickey, like Conrad's Kurtz, has exterminated the brutes.
Danielson continues to give these pieces away as presents to close friends, and he occasionally shows them at Dreamhaven, where he is a part-time employee. He cannot say for sure how many Smurfs he has killed in the past decade. And because neither his supply of sadism nor blue clay is running out, Danielson will continue to mold smiling, happy victims.
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