Henry Darger is widely recognized as one of the stars of Outsider Art and increasingly, as an incredibly important presence in Modern Art. His large-scale horizontal-format watercolor drawings chronicle events and scenes from a mythical world of his own creation.
The artist had a difficult childhood. Having lost both parents by age eight, he found stability in a job as a janitor at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago. Outside a brief stint in the army in late 1917, he worked in area hospitals from age seventeen until his retirement in 1963. If by day Darger led an unremarkable existence, by night, in a tiny apartment in Chicago’s North Side, he created a magnificent, fantastical world in watercolor and in words. His magnum opus, a 15,000-page typed manuscript 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, tells the story of a great war on an imaginary planet where child slaves, led by a group of pre-teens called the Vivian Girls, engaged in a series of battles with their adult overlords to gain freedom. Though he finished his manuscript in the 1930s, he continued to illustrate his world long after he finished the text.
This double-sided six-panel work depicts a battle between the adult army, complete with bayonets and mortarboards, and the child slaves. Here, the Blengins (winged figures with serpent-like tails) fly in to rescue the children and stave off the attackers. The dramatic weather across both sides of the artwork reflects the tumultuous episode, with brighter skies emerging on the right side of the second panel indicating the end of the fight. Darger’s figures and animals are created in part through carbon transfers of popular print sources including magazines, packaging, illustrated books and coloring books. Collaged elements from his illustrated source material also appear on this work, including images of frolicking children and houses on the verso. Darger incorporated text in his pieces, both as a guide for himself and for his imagined viewers. This takes the form of direct quotes from characters, such as an adult soldier imploring "let's run, Blengins are coming" (recto), plot points from the artist-as-narrator, including the label "where he stood" inside the outline of a fallen soldier above his now-recumbent body (recto), and directions and times to orient the viewer, such as "East 3 more minutes after" on the verso, which contextualizes the sides of the work in relation to each other.
Darger’s work is in the collections of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the American Folk Art Museum, New York, and the Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland.