Henry Darger: Art and Selected Writings
By Michael Bonesteel
This is the most comprehensive Darger reference available. It starts with a 30 page essay by Michael Bonesteel and includes a lot of biographical information including the Elsie Paroubek story. I find the colors a little more saturated than the works I've seen in person, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It measures 11 inches by 10 inches in size and includes more than 200 pages of color reproductions, photos of his work area and a satisfying variety of excerpts from his writings, including The Realms, The History of My Life and Book of Weather Reports. Buy this one for yourself.

The Henry Darger Collection at the American Folk Art Museum
By Brooke Davis Anderson
The American Folk Art Museum is home to the Darger Study Center, housing all his manuscripts, 26 paintings and the archive of his source materials. This book measures 11 inches by 8.5 inches in size and includes 54 full color paintings and 19 pages of studies and archival materials, but no excerpts of Darger's writings. However, it includes a foreword by Kiyoko Lerner, an essay by Michel Thevoz and an afterword by Gerald C. Wertkin that give insight into his life. Buy this one as a gift.

In The Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger
Directed by Jessica Yu
This well-made film gives a broad background to Darger's life and works. Narrated by Larry Pine and Dakota Fanning (whose voice is appropriately creepy) it avoids any psychological analysis or critical opinion but simply focuses on telling the story of Darger's life. The animation of Darger's paintings originally put me off a bit, but does work to keep the pace flowing. Also included is a 30 minute interview with Jessica Yu in which she talks about Darger's art and the making of the film. You can see an excerpt from the film here.

Girls on the Run: A Poem
By John Ashbery with illustrations by Henry Darger
A single dreamlike poem inspired and illustrated by the paintings of Henry Darger, Ashbury's surreal stream-of-consciousness echo Darger's mix of the sweetness and horror of childhood.

Outsider Art: Spontaneous Alternatives
By Colin Rhodes
This small paperback book (6x8 inches, 224 pages) serves as an inexpensive introduction to outsider art (art outside the mainstream). It's laden with photographs on almost every page, about half in full color. Beginning with Jean Dubuffet's Art Brut movement, Rhodes surveys some of the different genres, including art by the insane, alternative worlds and the self-taught, and includes such luminaries as Darger, Malcolm McKesson, Morton Bartlett, Simon Rodia, Adolf Wolfli, Bill Traylor and Nek Chand.

Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond
By John Maizels
If you have a little more to spend, this lavishly illustrated volume by Raw Vision editor John Maizels is a comprehensive, international survey of outsider art, from Jean Dubuffet and early recognition of the art of the insane to self-taught artists to visionary environments. Published by renowned art publishers Phaidon, 240 pages mostly in full color with many full page photos.

Sound and Fury: The Art of Henry Darger
by Edward Gomez
The exhibition catalog to the 2006 La Maison Rouge exhibit of Darger's work in Paris, this 80-page paperback includes an essay by Edward Madrid Gomez, and a foreword by Andrew Edlin from the Andrew Edlin Gallery, the exclusive representative of the Darger estate.

I first saw one of Henry Darger's paintings at a group show at the American Visionary Art Museum and was stunned by the color and composition of the work as well as the heartbreaking story that accompanied it. Since then, I've kept a keen lookout for opportunities to see more of his work. No matter how much I see, I'm always enthralled anew.

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Appreciation of the art of Henry Darger is unequivocally influenced by the known facts of his life: his mother died when he was four years old after giving birth to a baby sister, whom he never saw. When he was eight years old, his father, unable to continue caring for him, put him in an orphanage and died soon after. Diagnosed as a disruptive trouble-maker, he was removed to various mental institutions until he ran away at age 16.

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For the next sixty-four years, he lived a reclusive life, working as a janitor in Chicago area hospitals and going to Catholic Mass daily. Neighbors would see him going through the trash, picking out magazines and newpaper illustrations. Finally, at age 80, unable to climb the stairs to his rented room, he was moved to a nursing home and died shortly thereafter.

His landlord was cleaning out his room after his death and came across a startling discovery: alone in his room, Darger had created a beautiful and violent fantasy world, primarily embodied in a 15,000 page epic narrative, "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."

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Illustrated by several hundred large watercolors paintings as well as smaller drawings and collages, the Vivian Girls are seven preadolescent sisters, princesses, sometimes depicted as hermaphrodites, who fight against and ultimately prevail over evil deeds prepetrated by sadistic adults. They are aided in their battles by various Christian armies and also by Blengins, dragon-like animals, both fearsome and gentle, that are absolute protectors of children. The illustrations range from calm and pastoral to brutally violent.

Darger was apparently not satisfied with his ability to draw the human form, so he used tracings of figures from newspapers, comic books and magazine photographs to illustrate his heroines, compiling a gestural dictionary that he used over and over.

darger paintingThere 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). The sexual undertones of the work itself and the voyeurism inherent in viewing work that the artist never meant to be shown furthers the unsettling nature of the work.

The Henry Darger Center is a not-for-profit foundation created in 1997 that offers art classes and programs to people with mental illnesses and provides exhibitions of their work. For more information or to offer your support, contact The Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner Foundation, 849 W. Webster, Chicago, IL 60614, USA.

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Other pages about Henry Darger and Outsider Art:

The Andrew Edlin Gallery is the exclusive representative of the Henry Darger Estate. They are in the process of preparing a catalogue raisonné of his work.

POV's interactive tour of Darger works.

Village Voice article on Darger and scholar John MacGregor.

ArtScope.net article on Henry Darger by G. Jurek Polansk.

The Carl Hammer Gallery website features many works.

Salon article on Darger by Gavin McNett.

The American Folk Art Museum has just negotiated a sizable Darger acquisition, including almost all of the manuscripts and a number of paintings.

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Ousider Art.

American Visionary Art Museum: Year-long group shows by outsider artists.

Raw Vision Magazine's definition of outsider art.