Forty years after his death, we remember the legacy of this passionate man.
The Realms of the Unreal: remembering Henry Darger, a genius and madman /
Unfortunately, there are many people who receive unfair and violent treatments from a young age, as a result of an unbalanced familiar environment, or conditions which encourage social injustice or economic inequality. On the other hand, some are mistreated because of their eccentric or unconventional personality. Perhaps this was the case of Henry Darger (1892-1973), which was marked by several unfortunate factors.
This artist, genius and misunderstood madman was able to develop his oeuvre despite all the mishaps —or perhaps because of them—; his was a long tale with over 15 thousand pages and hundreds of drawings, as well as an autobiographic text, diaries, as well as a story that describes how “Sweetie Pie” destroyed an entire village in 4,672 pages.
The story of this singular character begins and ends in the city of Chicago, albeit in a different space-temporal plane from where Darger’s strange imagery was developed: In the Realms of the Unreal, an eccentric story about a fantastic realm called Abbieannia in which most of the inhabitants are catholic and where the everyday life of this tormented artist encounters a creative fullness that transforms him into a type of mad genius.
This enormous piece narrates the story of the Vivian Girls, child deities, whose immaculate beauty and gentle nature is expressed through sophisticated and pataphysic bellicose industries, defending children from the rule of terror imposed by the Glandelians. This demonic army operates under the command of General John Manley, a despicable being that attempts against what Darger considers to be the most sublime aspect of life, childhood. The Angelic-Glandelian war began with the assassination of Anna Aronburg, a child leader that was imperative for the “the rebellion of the child slaves” that refused to endure more massacres at the hand of the Glandelian government; the seven Vivian Girl princesses support the rebellion, favouring it with their sharp cunning and supernatural powers.
Darger’s thought process is inquisitive; he shreds every consequence within the story and is capable of astounding epic battles. He records the costs, casualties and material losses in every one of his imaginary battles. He languidly wanders his characters’ thoughts, and his tireless penmanship evidences an antagonised and divine furore, that in some way seems related to the manuscripts by reclusive monks; additionally possessing profound reflections centred on beauty and love, as well as eccentric explanations on life, death and the nature of God and society. Darger considered himself to be a repented saint, those who knew him say he never had problems with anyone and that he never spoke of anything other than the weather: he was never seen talking to children and was usually alone. When he exited the psychiatric hospital he obsessively tried to adopt a child, and in the constant denials found one of his greatest frustrations and most profound pain.
The works seems to have been written by an eccentric and crazed character, similar to Alfred Jarry, but in fact, hennery had an intense and busy internal life that kept him alienated from others, when he found himself completely alone in a room voices and characters emerged, which were often heard by the neighbours. He was inspired by works like The Wizard of Oz and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and authors such as Dickens and Penrod. Due to the colossal extension of In the Realms of the Unreal, this has not been published in full, but shortened editions in both digital and printed format can be found, accompanied by high quality drawings.
Henry Darger contrived a detailed record for 10 years after the predictions of the Chicago weather; he became terribly annoyed by the constant mistakes made by the man that made the predictions. His life was limited to the transit of a few apples and deeply rooted habits, like collecting objects, magazines, newspapers and books that included pictures and drawings of children. Since he was a self-taught artist, he developed a personal methodology when it came to drawing, primarily based on collages, tracing and copying images. When the photocopying service burgeoned, Henry diligently began to amplify and shrink his favourite images in order to include them in his work.
Towards the end of his days he found the help he needed in his neighbours from the building he’d lived in for many years, they were the ones that discovered Darger’s work weeks before he passed away: due to the owner of the flat, the story was well preserved. We amply recommend Jessica Yu’s homonymous documentary where we can understand several aspects of his life and appreciate some of Darger’s sophisticated animated drawings.
Henry’s legacies are pages and pages of literature and images that have inspired studies, poetry, music, theatre and films. His ultimate achievement is becoming an exemplary model that reminds us we must follow our personal passion and creative impulses, regardless of the circumstances that surround us.Tagged: Henry Darger, artists, madness and art, painters, inspiration