by emily smith

Dargerism: Haunted, Self Taught, Mythical, Twisted, Introspective, Tripped Out

Henry Darger (1892-1973) was an emotionally tormented reclusive artist whose work is more shocking than crafted. The man lived inside a haunted head. Darger’s most famous work, Realms of the Unreal, is a bound epic collection of fictional stories about abuse, repression, good and evil. The original manuscript is on display in New York’s American Folk Art Museum, and it is an absolute mind fuck. This volume is longer than 2,000 pages on varying weights of paper typed in courier font. If you look at the manuscript you can actually see Darger alone in his barren Chicago apartment pounding away at the typewriter and scratching his own scabs off. (Think Zeek the plumber / Darger actually was a janitor.) Lengthy scrolls of watercolor paintings depicting horrifyingly fantastic creatures accompany the text. The story’s protagonists are a group of seven girls, the Vivian Girls, who are often depicted with male genitalia or hanging from nooses. One could argue that Darger is not deserving of any acclaim because the watercolors and texts are unrefined, lacking in technical skill and unedited. Contrarily, if you stare at the dimensionless eyes of the poorly illustrated girls you can feel Darger painfully sketching, trembling, and trying to divulge his own demons.


Henry Darger’s works were only discovered by his landlord after his death. His pieces have influenced artists of all mediums including graphic novelists, filmmakers and musicians. Dargeristic traces are everywhere in contemporary culture. There must be some explanation as to how one man’s crazy scribblings became a prominent point of reference. Perhaps the answer lies in authenticity. After all, real haunted is more magnetic than playing crazy.

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