Henry Darger, Artist

Henry J. Darger was born in 1892 and lived with his father, a tailor, in Chicago. He was moved to a Catholic asylum when his father became crippled, and after many attempts, successfully ran away at age 16.

Darger spent his life working as a janitor in Catholic hospitals, living alone in a rented room on Chicago's north side, attending Mass up to five times a day, and writing a picaresque tale in 15 massive volumes, composed of 145 handwritten pages and 5,084 single-spaced typed pages, and titled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. To accompany this enormous literary production, Darger also created several hundred large-scale illustrations — pencil on paper drawings painted over with watercolor and occasional additions of collage — that relate the story: On an unnamed planet, of which Earth is a moon, the good Christian nation of Anniennia wars with the Glandelinians, who practice child enslavement. The heroines are the seven Vivian sisters, Abbiennian princesses, who, after many battles, fires, tempests, and lurid torture, succeed in forcing the Glandelinians to give up their barbarous ways.

Publisher's information for Henry Darger: Disasters of War, by Klaus Biesenbach and Kiyoko Lerner

Internet Resources

In which the author discovers a previously unknown disturbing work by the reclusive Henry Darger (1892 - 1973).
John MacGregor
What holds Darger aside the main of Outsider Art is that his narrative doesn't evoke folk ideology, which evolves more into itself over time, and that his vision is grounded in the iconography of children's books, nursery rhymes, and Sunday funnies.
E. Tage Larsen
Apart from marvelling at the beauty, complexity, and incredible weirdness of his paintings, I can only believe that Henry Darger's inner life was richer, more eventful, and more satisfying than most.
Matthew Michael
There is an otherworldliness in this combination of comic-book-like characters set against lush, panoramic backgrounds and huge cloud formations (he was also an obsessive weather buff).
Sara Ayers
A review of Henry Darger In The Realms of The Unreal, by John M. MacGregor, and Darger: The Henry Darger Collection at the American Folk Art Museum, by Brooke Davis Anderson.
William Swislow
Darger's private world centered around seven little blond moppets called the Vivian Girls, whose adventures include ... But it's a 23,000-page story! (review of the book by John M. MacGregor.
Gavin McNett
Filmmaker Jessica Yu, in "In the Realms of the Unreal," outlines Darger's lonely life and interviews Lerner's elegant, sympathetic widow Kiyoko and other Darger neighbors — highlighted by enchanting animation of some of Darger's exquisite scrolls. The sequences, produced by Kara Vallow, bring to life a gossamer fairy-tale world, recalling the style of Kate Greenway illustrations but drawn from ads and comic books and other scavenged images. In this realm, the seven Vivian Sisters and other little girls are eternally menaced by an array of tyrants who sometimes succeed in subjecting the children to hideous ordeals despite the protective efforts of the dragon-like Blengins. The paintings reflect Darger's horrendous childhood, his struggles with Catholicism and his sorrow over being denied the right to adopt a child himself.
Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
The overall effect is at once terrifying and oddly cozy, something like a cross between the Bayeux tapestry and a Dick-and-Jane reader.
Michael Leddy
From December 31, 1957 until December 31, 1967, the artist and writer Henry Darger (1892-1973) kept a series of six ring-binder notebooks with almost daily entries on the weather in his native Chicago.
Lytle Shaw
Darger's images disconcert not just because he sentimentalizes childhood purity to a degree scarcely conceivable in the 20th century but also because he externalizes evil in a way that is distinctly premodern.
Richard Vine
Darger's written texts, which also include an eight volume autobiography, The History of My Life, provide the most extensive body of secret fantasy material ever accumulated by one man.
John MacGregor

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