Henry Darger was only known as a janitor for the majority of his life, until it was discovered, shortly before his death, that he had been working on an a 15,000 page manuscript since the age of 19.
PBS has put a website up to accompany a TV programme about Darger, with commentaries, audio, video and images of Darger’s paintings.
His manuscript, entitled 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, contained an epic story and several hundred water colour illustrations.
The story is fantastic, bizarre and disturbing and recounts the tale of an ongoing and sometimes graphically bloody war between the Vivian Girls, sometimes aided by winged creatures called the Blengens, against child slavery imposed by the Glandelinians.
Darger was diagnosed with a mental illness in his youth, although his diagnosis was reportedly ‘masturbation’, which was thought by some doctors at the time to cause madness (not an uncommon belief throughout history).
It’s not clear whether this was thought to signify the likely cause of an obvious mental illness, or whether this was considered reason enough to justify a clinical diagnosis.
He is considered one of the most important of the ‘outsider artists‘, people who have had no formal training or contact with the mainstream art world, but produce highly regarded works.
Many significant outsider artists, such as Adolf W√∂lfli, were diagnosed as mentally ill or had experience of serious mental distress.