henry darger

the work of the author/artist henry darger was a major influence in curating “vocabularies of metaphor.”

born in 1892 and raised in orphanages and the lincoln asylum for feeble-minded children, for most of his adult life darger lived alone in a one-room apartment in chicago where he kept a six-volume daily weather journal, wrote an autobiography of 5,000 pages and two novels, most significantly, the 15,000 page “the story of the vivian girls, in what is known as the realms of the unreal, of the glandeco-angelininian war storm, caused by the child slave rebellion”  — or “the realms of the unreal.”    i’ve only ever been able to find a few excerpts from “the realms” —   here’s one:

Robert Vivian himself was the father of seven little Vivian Girls whose beauty could never be painted had they been seen for real. Of Violet, Joice, Jennie, and Evangeline, their beauty could never be described, but their nature and ways in goodness and soul was still more pretty and spotless. And no Evangeline St. Clare could beat them in their kind loving ways, and their love for God. They were always willing to do as they were told, keeping away from bad company and going to Mass and Holy Communion every day, and living the lives of little saints. The watchfulness of their parents made them what they were. They were Abbieannians by birth, but their parents, dreading the great Abbieannian storms, had left Abbieannia and first went to Angelinia. Hanson Vivian, who lost his wife and daughter, was their uncle and as pious as their father, but he was a Hercules for build, and a regular Samson for strength.

Way before Robert Vivian’s children were born, Hanson had a pretty daughter by the name of Violet Vivian. She herself was a regular Eva St. Clare and also died at the same age as Little Eva did. She was killed by the great typhoon which swept Abbieannia, as already described in the first few pages of this chapter.

By the time our story opens, twenty-seven years after Hanson had left Abbieannia, three of Robert’s other daughters, Daisy, Catherine, and Hettie, had been caught out in a large woods just as a terrific typhoon broke loose, sweeping a portion of the eastern coast of Angelinia. The frightful storm had lasted over two days, devastating a good many forests, and wrecking many cities and towns in its path. After the great storm, the little girls could not be found, though close searches had been made everywhere. Many days had passed, and still they had not been found. Robert had to give up the search in grief, though he, being a Catholic, did not give up prayer. He telegraphed the cities of Jennie Richee, Mic-Hollester, and Jennie-Wren-Town, and even Marcucian and Vivian Wickey, but no trace of them could be found.

— from Volume I, pp. 14-17.

darger made hundreds of works on paper illustrating his saga and they are what established his reputation.   the paintings/drawings along with the manuscripts were discovered by his landlord (an artist) shortly before darger’s death.     the landlord/artist realized he’d stumbled on something extraordinary and it’s due to the efforts of he and his wife that darger’s work was preserved and is now well-known.   i first saw his work at yerba buena center in 1997.  it was staggering and bizarre.  an epic battle between good and evil fought by naked little girls with penises…

we’ll exhibit one of the large two-sided paintings as well as two small character studies.   darger’s work will be the only work by an artist who is no longer living.     it will also be the only work that was made without the intent that it be publicly exhibited.    an interesting thing to keep in mind…