Exhibitions | Roland (Don’t Call me an ‘Artist’) Topor

Monkey Hammer
on the Chin
, 1972

Galerie KK Klaus
Kiefer, Essen

Roland Topor
Museum Folkwang
Essen | Germany
29 June > 30 September 2018

Schlusschor, 1991.
Theatre poster for
Münchner Kammerspiele

Offset print.
Deutsches Plakatmuseum
im Museum Folkwang

Dark but sharply witty, Roland Topor’s pen and ink drawings, sometimes with a flat wash of colour added, focusing on the relationship between the sexes, the absurdities of human existence, and the futility of endeavour was the visual equivalent of literature. During the 1970s, he produced many illustrations for Elle (France), and, from 1971-1995, regularly for The New York Times. Alongside prominent international contemporaries such as Milton Glaser and Tommy Ungerer, Topor’s work was a mainstay of the illustration annuals, eagerly pored over by art students of the period, and would influence a whole generation of magazine illustrators, who came to the fore over the next couple of decades.

Topor (1938 > 1997), however, never restricted himself to illustration. Having trained at the Beaux-arts de Paris in the 1950s, he vehemently rejected being pigeonholed as an ‘artist’. His illustrations had first appeared, in 1958, in the dada- and surrealist-flavoured Bizarre revue but he would go on to become a successful novelist, playwright, actor, costume and stage designer, filmmaker, songwriter and television writer. Few have enjoyed such success across so many diverse areas of creativity.

The Tin Drum, 1979.
Film poster

Offset print,
Deutsches Plakatmuseum
im Museum Folkwang

Suzanne’s Wobble, 1977.
Ink pen and coloured pencil.

Sammlung Jakob
und Philipp Keel

You’re a real
moron, Samuel
, 1968
Ink pen and coloured pencil.

Sammlung Jakob
und Philipp Keel

Of Polish-Jewish origin but born in Paris, Topor spent the early years of his life hidden from the Nazis in South East France. Roman Polanski, from a remarkably similar background, made a film adaptation of Topor’s novel The Tenant (Le Locataire chimérique, 1964 – extended and republished 2006) in 1976, casting himself in the lead role. In 1979, Topor was himself cast in the role of Renfield in Werner Herzog’s film Nosferatu the Vampire. Meanwhile, in 1965 his animated short film Les Escargots, created with animator René Laloux, and incorporating a scene in which a giant snail snatches a scantily-clad woman through her bedroom window and drags her inside his shell, had won the Special Jury Prize at the Cracow Film Festival. His feature-length animated film La planète sauvage (The Fantastic Planet, 1973) earned him a special prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.

Wilful, 1978.
From the series Three
Images of Success

Sammlung Jakob und
Philipp Keel

Topor’s predilection for exposing the hidden meaning of myths and fables was a legacy of his Polish roots. He combined it with his surrealist influences from Rene Magritte, and the sort of stinging political criticism that has lived on in France since the Revolution to devastating effect. Between 1961 and 1966, he worked on the satirical journal Hara-Kiri from where many of the staff went on to form Charlie Hebdo. Rather than a humorist he, reportedly, considered himself a ’smart-arse’ or ‘piss-taker’ and, in 1983, was responsible for creating the popular French TV series Téléchat, which parodied news broadcasts. United Dead Artists published a large format book ReBonjour (Hello again) of Topor’s – often erotic – linocuts, in 2010.

If you missed Topor: a Vision of the World at Paris’s Bibliothèque nationale de France last summer, try to see Panoptikum at Museum Folkwang, which, with a selection of 200 works, including films and costume designs, provides an overview of the diverse output one of the most adroit and adaptable creative minds of his generation.

All images by Roland Topor © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018, courtesy Museum Folkwang

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