Henri Darger left 15,000 pages of stories and more than 700 pages of illustrations created in the dark. A fantasy tale blending horrific scenes of war and colorful innocent boys and girls all drawn with penises as the main characters. A world full of meanings and feelings where the silver lining is survival.
In order to understand the illustrations painted by Henry Darger, we need to understand his story. His mother died while giving birth and his father sent him to an asylum where he was allegedly abused at an early age and from where he escaped at age sixteen. He spent the rest of his life working at Catholic institutions by day, secluded in his room by night where he would secretly enter his imaginary make-believe world, a pen in his hand. A self-taught man, he learned how to draw by collecting advertisements, newspaper illustrations. He made collages, layering and tracing the outlines of his precious characters.
The interpretation of the drawings, lets us inside of Henry Darger’s inner turmoil. The heroines are the Vivian girls, blond cute little girls defying furiously and heroically adults, the Glandelinians. They appear dressed up with colorful outfits or naked with a penis. They lead armies, hide, and spy on their opponents; crossing fields of strangled, disemboweled and dismembered children’s corpses.
Suffocation and awkwardness emerges from the scenes and let us feel a glimpse of the strong harsh almost cruel and unbearable emotional state the author endured.
Henry Darger says in his autobiography, In the Realms of the Unreal that he hated the perspective to watch himself become an adult. He never wanted to to grow up. The chaos of his narrative, combined with his violent drawings all turned against adults are the terrifying trace of his past. Never able to recover, he chose to shut down this part of his spirit to any kind of other human beings only to let it come to life as pure art.
He demonstrates the powerful reason to be of art: to express with any kind of means the distress trapped in a human’s soul into something beautiful.
Henry Darger’s illustrations are currently shown at Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris until October 2015.
© Eric Emo / Musée d’Art Moderne / Roger-Viollet