Outsider Artist: Chicago’s Henry Darger

Anyone can become overwhelmed by the desire to express what is inside them in a creative way. Most often the best examples are highlighted in museums and art history courses and classes, but sometimes there are diamonds in the rough, or great works found in unlikely places. Whenever someone without a formal art education or from a marginalized part of society makes an astounding work, it is known as outsider art.

Chicago has been home to many of these creators, most notably the late Henry Darger, whose magnum opus, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, was inspired by the murder of young girl, which obsessed Darger.

In the Realms of the Unreal is a biographical documentary about Darger's life and creations. Darger's book was written and illustrated over his lifetime using recycled paper and watercolors in a shabby Northside apartment. His personal story is strange and compelling and almost synonymous with outsider art.

Intuit: the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, the museum of outsider art right here in Chicago, also houses a Henry Darger exhibit, which remakes the room where The Story of the Vivian Girls was born and includes works by many outsider artists.

You can Discover Intuit and Outsider Art with our upcoming art workshops as part of our Teen Summer Challenge, Defy Gravity.

Chicago Public Library also holds a large archive of local artists, including some pieces about Darger.

Check out these titles to learn more about outsider art or more about Henry Darger:

Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy

The Art of Secrets is a recent CPL Best of the Best pick and Edgar Award winner about how good intentions can quickly come into question once a school fundraiser receives a donation of Darger's work that is worth half a million dollars.

The Avalanche is a CD of tracks not included on Come on Feel the Illinoise and includes a track inspired by Darger, "The Vivian girls are visited in the night by Saint Dargarius and his squadron of benevolent butterflies."

Driven to Create

American Self-taught Art

The Colorful Apocalypse