For forty or so years a man lived quietly and virtually anonymously in an apartment inside the building you see above. When he became too ill to care for himself, he was moved to a nursing home, and that's when the world became aware of the incredible art and writing he had produced. This man was Henry Darger.
For decades Henry Darger wrote and illustrated a 15,000 page novel entitled 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. This despite the fact that he had no training in art or writing. Darger's fantastical story revolves around the heroic Vivan Girls and their battles against the child slavery imposed by the Glandelinians. To hear and read the text is a riveting experience, but to see the illustrations is an entirely different matter.
Click on the image to have your mind blown!
Darger's illustrations are massive scrolls, some of which were up to 30 feet long and double sided. He would often trace his figures from magazines and newspapers, and his use of color was vibrant and pretty damn good, despite his lack of training. I've only seen one of his illustrations in person, at an exhibit at The Walker, and I couldn't pull myself away from it. This is partly because the work was so powerful, but it was also because his work is so mysterious. What drove this man, who by all accounts was simple and lived a fairly hard life, to create such massive and compulsive works of art in complete secrecy for his entire life?
Biographical information for Henry Darger is mainly pulled from a 206 page autobiography that eventually turned into a 4000+ page novel about a tornado called Sweetie Pie. It seems that much of his life he viewed himself as a protector of children, and that served as inspiration for the story of The Vivian Girls. He was institutionalized as a child, he was a runaway, and he was a janitor for the majority of his life. A janitor with one hell of an internal life.
Darger passed away in 1973 at the age of 81, leaving only three known photos of himself and a massive body of work. His art has exhibited all around the world and is in the permanent collections of major art museums. One gallery, The Intuit in Chicago, built a recreation of his apartment to give some context to his work. The recreation gives a sense of the cramped and cluttered environment that he lived in, but it is relatively controlled compared to images of the actual apartment, which was filled with newspapers, magazines, scrapbooks, and scores of other things that Henry collected throughout his life.
Dangerous Minds just posted some footage I have never seen before that was shot in 1973 not long after Henry was moved out of his apartment. The silent Super 8 film was shot to document the living environment that Darger worked out of, and it offers a rare look into the world of a true Outsider artist. You'll see lots of random images of his art, writing, scrapbooks... basically you'll see his entire world. It's riveting.
Once you're done with the footage, you should watch the documentary In The Realms Of The Unreal, which attempts to pull back the veil of mystery surrounding Henry Darger and his work. It's a great film for art lovers and folks that love mystery. How many other other people like Darger have never been discovered? How many were discovered and never appreciated? The world should be grateful that his landlord was a photographer and recognized just what Henry had created. If the landlord was some slumlord that work would have just ended up in a dumpster and we wouldn't be talking about this amazing work today. That's a pretty depressing thought.