Henry Darger was born in Chicago
, April 12
. He died in 1973
He was an untrained artist, and as such is described as an Outsider Artist. His work is rather unnerving to the public, and done in the painfully bright and contrasting style of the 1970s magic marker posters. If he fit into the history of art, it could be said that he was ahead of his time. The motifs present in his work were largely little girls, clothed and unclothed, and the armies of men and creatures which sought to capture and torture them. Although it was not diagnosed in his lifetime, it is likely that he was functionally schizophrenic.
In creating his art, he would rummage through garbage bins, looking through newspapers, children's books, and comics for images to carbon trace. He would then take the images to the local drugstore and have a photographic blowup to make 11x14 prints. With these, he would trace the forms, and create multiple copies of his subject, coloring each, and assigning diffentiating characteristics through the colours and actions.
At age 4, his mother died giving birth to a girl, who also died. At age 8, because his father was no longer capable of caring for him, he was put into the orphanage "Little Sisters of the Poor". Shortly thereafter his father died. He was considered a trouble-maker, and diagnosed mentally retarded. He was sent off to a mental institution. At age 16, he fled the institution, and found employment at St. Joseph's Hospital, and other Chicago area hospitals as a janitor and dishwasher. He went to Catholic mass up to 5 times a day, every day. In the time that he worked at St. Joseph's Hospital, he shared a room, interestingly enough, with a child murderer. At age 19, he started his work on The Realms, continuing his job at the hospitals. At age 55, he had to retire because of illness. At age 80, he was moved to a nursing home and died shortly thereafter.
There are many works that he created in his life, among which are military portraits, landscapes, and eventually collage. Two of his works have wide recognition in the artistic community.
His most famous is the piece, "The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion", which is generally shortened to "The Realms" in artistic discourse, and is reviewed by discofever in the node "The Story of the Vivian Girls". The book, which is composed of both text and art is 15145 pages of just text, with the images made separately. A great many of his images have been annotated, as if to express the need to mark a specific inspiration, or even actual event, although it is all so fantastic. It was in this work that he created the dragon-type species, the Blengiglomeneans, which are more frequently called Blengins.
His other famous work is his autobiography "The History of My Life", which he wrote in the 10 years preceeding his death, which was some 10000 pages long (his autobiography that is, not his death). Darger also kept detailed accounts of the weather, and he has an entry which details the 1913 tornado that wasted the city of Countrybrown, Illinois.
In an analysis of his art, it seems to be in a similar vein as oriental art, being created on many adjoining pages, with implied perspective, and symbolic rather than literal proportion. Some of his pieces have been joined together to form sheets more than a metre tall by two to three metres long. His art is not like that of other Outsider Artists, in that it is not based in folk as much as in literal imagery. His inspiration for his work is posited to come from the conflict he had with the tenets of Catholicism, and his physical reality. His work, despite the macabre scenes of mutilation, and omnipresent child nudity, is considered truly quite innocent, and a particular quirk of his mode of thought, rather than as a derangement or fetish.
The first place to make a public display of his work was the Museum of American Folk Art, in New York City, USA. It was presented with the title "Henry Darger: The Unreality of Being".
A non-profit group, The Henry Darger Center, was started in Chicago in 1997 in order to expose the works of, and give art classes to those with mental illnesses.