Thursday, July 26, 2012

Henry Darger & the Aurora Shootings

Jessica Yu's 2004 documentary In the Realms of the Unreal details Darger's life and artworks.

Henry Joseph Darger, Jr. April 12, 1892 – April 13, 1973, was a reclusive writer & artist who worked as a custodian. He has become famous for his posthumously-discovered 15,145-page, single spaced fantasy manuscript called 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, along with several hundred drawings & watercolor paintings that illustrated the story. Darger's work has become one of the most celebrated examples of Outsider Art.

In 1930, Darger settled into a second-floor room on Chicago's North Side. It was in this room, for 43 years, that Darger imagined & wrote his massive tomes, in addition to a 10 year daily weather journal & assorted diaries, until his death at St. Augustine's Catholic Mission home, the same institution his father had died in. In the last entry in his diary, he wrote: "January 1, 1971. I had a very poor nothing like Christmas. Never had a good Christmas all my life, nor a good new year & now.... I am very bitter but fortunately not revengeful, though I feel should be how I am."

Darger is buried in All Saints Cemetery, Des Plaines, Illinois, in a plot called "The Old People of the Little Sisters of the Poor Plot." Darger's headstone is inscribed "Artist" & "Protector of Children."

Henry Darger was an unusual man. Some found his references to girls & violence disturbing; others saw his work as a creative way of dealing with his horrific upbringing after being left in orphanages & poor houses upon losing his mother, sister & father at a young age. He held menial jobs while bursting with an artistic genius that he channeled into an amazing body of work at night, isolated in his little room.

On the other hand, James Holmes, the Aurora Shooter, manifested his genius in outward, horrific ways. He was obsessed with The Dark Knight & his hero was the Joker. Of course as onlookers, we entertain any idea that might make his acts rational & therefore explainable. Once again there is a tightrope between sanity & full blown mental illness & what seems like a tipping point which pushes the mentally ill over the abyss of no return. Unfortunately hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

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