Outsider Art – a look at Henry Darger

As a collage artist, collector of bits and pieces of paper, ephemera, and of course that which holds us together here on Ragged Cloth, fabric, thread and all manner of fiber, I am always looking at, exploring and reading about art created using such manner of design elements. Also intrigued by the Outsider Artists of the world it is no wonder that I “stumbled” upon this man last spring while I explored the shelves of the Humboldt State University library. Henry Darger and his art haunt me and challenge me at the same time to continue to use images in the manner of collage as I am so often motivated. So, this Sunday in July I share a bit of my notebook of information collected on this man. (Look at the Raw Vision site below to see a photo of Darger)

A look at the outsider art of Henry Darger (1892-1973) brings us to a table filled with watercolor paintings and collages. Darger’s art was done for himself during his lifetime; not shared or passed about, simply conceived, executed and stored until after his death when the dwelling he occupied for 40 years was cleared out. Today, more than 30 years after his passing his art is displayed to audiences and the bits he clipped from advertisements, cartoons, magazines and newspapers. These bits were assembled to form pictures which illustrated a large volume of his writing entitled ” Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion” and these images comprise a large percentage of his artwork. He also made several scroll like paintings and often painted both the front and the versa of the paper. Darger’s use of cut-out images from print media as well as using photocopied and enlarged images was something he repeated again and again in his constructions.

In 2006 the American Folk Art Museum in New York had not only an extensive exhibit of his work, but also presented a documentary of his work “In the Realms of the Unreal”. See: http://www.fryeart.org/pages/HenryDarger.htm for additional information about this two month long exhibition and selected pieces of his painting and collage work.

There is an interesting book review written by Gavin McNett: of the book “Henry Darger:In the Realms of the Unreal” by John M MacGregor, to be found at: http://dir.salon.com/story/books/review/2002/07/23/darger/index.html

This piece explores in some detail the story of this outsider artist’s life, and the possible connection of Darger’s writing to life in reality. The illustration used in this article is haunting and reflective of the information covered in the text.


In 1939 Darger began a second text that has the temporary title of “Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House” which was discovered as the enormous collection of writings and art was uncovered in his living quarters and this web address gives pictures of his dwelling place and some great information about his life and work.


A visit to: http://www.hammergallery.com/Artists and by selecting list of artists on the left of the home page, then selecting Darger you will be led to a nice collection of his work and a most interesting exploration of the “mind” of this outside artist.

Another site to view is: http://www.henrydarger.info/intro.htm

It is curious that so much was created, explored, written and gathered together by this man, Henry Darger. His writing may look to some as his “artist statement” ready for an exhibition at the gallery, to others as an expose of the perhaps sinister, or has been postulated, the evil reality of this man who worked by day in a manual labor position as a janitor or dishwasher and as a winder of gauze bandages. He had no need to show his work, neither writings nor paintings and collages to others. He just created and posthumously his art is viewed, appreciated, enjoyed or not, and the speculative spirit of the art critic goes on with suppositions and wonderings.

5 Responses to “Outsider Art – a look at Henry Darger”

  1. 1 Apophenia June 22, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    A visit to: http://www.hammergallery.com/Artists and by selecting list of artists on the left of the home page, then selecting Darger you will be led to a nice collection of his work and a most interesting exploration of the “mind” of this outside artist.

    Why do you have the word mind in quote marks?

  2. 2 a ColLaGe A dAy July 20, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    i am fascinated by his prolific output. his work is wonderful.


  3. 3 maggie July 15, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    i worked in a museum where i had to see images of darger’s work daily (http://www.avam.org). at first, i was bothered by what i saw, until i read more about darger and saw the documentary of his life “in the realms of the unreal.” darger was a recluse who had spent much of his life institutionalized and marginalized. the little girls in his work represent his alter-ego. they are an army of heroes who stand up to oppression and win. his work was not meant for the public to view. he made it as his way of working through his experiences in life. after seeing ‘in the realms of the unreal’ i have come to love darger’s work. his work is not something i would hang over my sofa, but i love what it says and what it meant to him.

  4. 4 terry grant July 10, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    I just became aware of Henry Darger about a year ago and was fascinated with his work, but not in such a good way. The more I looked, the more unsettling I found it. To me it has very strong associations to child pornography and a troubled mind. It is very disturbing to me and reminds me of nightmares I had as a child, where things seemed, on the surface, carefree and normal, but soon revealed themselves as threatening and scary. I find little art that really bothers me, but Henry Darger’s does.

    • 5 Apophenia June 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm

      That’s art. Not all of it is fluffy bunnies and pretty flowers.

      I’m certainly glad some of it is, but something to consider: if this was pornography, it would have been spread around and sold. This was a man’s private fantasy world. Perhaps Darger recognized that society would find the child element too disturbing and this was why he kept it to himself.

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