Know the work of Henry Darger? Well last weekend, the paintings, collages, drawings and mad musings of this reclusive, compulsive man came alive through a play by Judith Kampfner. It was just a reading of The Strange Case of Henry Darger and only of excerpts at that, yet utterly engrossing. We got a glimpse into the mind whose phantasmagoria of children, monsters, soldiers, and recurring visions of the crucifix are embodied in the hundreds upon hundreds of works Darger left behind.
The worlds Darger depicts are in turn lyrical, disturbing, sweet and violent, and in the play we see the man summoning them with the intensity of a person struggling to do what comes so easily to others: relate — to people, fears, a news story, beauty, horror, God. It is art not for art’s sake, but for living’s sake and he goes about it as relentlessly as he breathes.
This comes through beautifully in Kampfner’s play and, the next day, standing before pieces on display at the Outsider Art Fair, the collages and paintings compelled me like fragments of a rich and complex whole, snapshots brought back from a hallucinatory journey which Kampfner’s The Strange Case of Henry Darger conjured the day before. No wonder the gatekeepers to Darger’s estate granted her permission.