Henry Darger: Landscapes

13 December 2012 - 9 February 2013
Press release

Ricco/Maresca Gallery presents Henry Darger: Landscapes. This exhibition brings together highly celebrated landscapes by the self-taught artist Henry Darger (1892-1973). Darger’s sumptuous and detailed landscapes are extensively varied – from bucolic and peaceful to dark and foreboding. When Henry Darger’s work is viewed from this singular vantage, new aesthetic, conceptual, and technical discoveries surface from the vast depths of the artist’s complex and mysterious oeuvre.

A devout Roman Catholic, Henry Darger worked as a janitor in Catholic hospitals by day and gave expression to his private, imaginary world by night from his small rented room on Chicago’s north side. Over a 54 year period, he created his magnum opus, a more than 15,000-page illustrated saga, The Story of the Vivian Girls in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal or the Glandelinian War Storm or the Glandico-Abbienian Wars as Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, (commonly referred to as In the Realms of the Unreal). The 13 volume manuscript is reenacted in nearly 300 watercolors and collages depicting the “adventures” of the seven innocent Vivian Girls as they lead the rebellion against the evil, child-enslaving, adult Glandelinians.


Darger’s landscapes set the ambience for his tales of good versus evil; they are at once romantic, poetic, and often violent. Using tracings from the newspaper clippings and magazine illustrations he amassed, Darger would meticulously configure his compositions. He paid particular attention to visual space and perspective in his landscapes, utilizing a copy machine to size his figures relative to their placement within the picture plane. Some of his landscapes evoke images of war torn battlefields from the Civil War, which the artist reputedly studied. Blustering winds, sleeting rain, and turbulent clouds inhabit his paintings; (he kept a daily weather journal for 10 years). While other landscapes are more saccharin in feel featuring imaginary places with child-like names, set within Darger’s Catholic land of Angelina, such as Finger Mountain, Peppermint Place, Onion City and Mistletoe Station.


In violent battles against the evil Glandelinian Army, the seven innocent Vivian Girls brave tornadoes and blazing forests, are strangled by clouds in the sky, and even “disappear through the earth” in miraculous escapes. Henry Darger’s extraordinary talent as a colorist, his sensitivity to line, and rhythmic compositions combine to create a formal beauty that renders even brutal imagery, sublime.


Henry Darger is perhaps the most well known self-taught artist; his works are held in museum and private collections in the US and abroad. Darger has been the subject of numerous major museum exhibitions on an international level which include retrospectives at the American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY, 1997, 2010, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Chicago, IL, 2003, and The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan, 2007, among others. In June 2012, Kiyoko Lerner donated 13 double-sided drawings by Henry Darger to MoMA, New York, NY. The gift is in honor of MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach, who curated “Disasters of War” in 2000 at P.S.1/MoMA, which presented works by Darger alongside those of Goya and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Copyright on Henry Darger retained by Kiyoko Lerner.

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