Roland Topor Naked

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Roland Topor is my all-time favorite human. Our friendship developed over scores of phone conversations about the Op-Ed subjects I commissioned him to illustrate. Without reading their texts, he created deft drawings for the Op-Ed page of The Times. I visited him many times in Paris. But since he was terrified of flying, he came only twice to the U.S. — by boat. The rest of the time, he would send me his friends, calling them “lettres de chair” [flesh letters].

Topor’s unrivaled access to the world of his unconscious, coupled with phenomenal work habits, produced a torrent of images that are the envy of artists the world over. “Learning to draw,” Roland said, “should take no more than 20 minutes. But your responsibility is to put your deepest soul on paper, to communicate directly from your nakedness. Anything less is unforgivable. I draw when I have to draw, when the idea is poisoning my brain so much that I have to vomit it out.” But your responsibility is to put your deepest soul on paper, to communicate directly from your nakedness. Anything less is unforgivable. I draw when I have to draw, when the idea is poisoning my brain so much that I have to vomit it out.” 

Topor was 24 when he wrote a horror novel, Le Locataire chimérique, that Roman Polanski filmed as the cult classic, The Tenant. Polanski told me he discovered the novel in the Paramount Studios library. That’s when the director realized that Topor, whom he knew only as “the funny, brilliant graphic artist in Café Flore” could write as wickedly as he could draw.

Once he sent me a clever code he'd devised for sending drawings by phone or letter. His code — reproduced below — preceded cell phones and the Internet.

 Once Roland sent me a humorous but carefully conceived code he created in order to send drawings over the telephone.
 Upon seeing a cabinet in my art studio, Roland immediately made use of the drawer pulls to transform a five-dollar piece of furniture into a piece of art

Upon seeing a cabinet in my art studio, Roland immediately made use of the drawer pulls to transform a five-dollar piece of furniture into a piece of art

Topor’s huge, Peter Lorre eyes and legendary laugh landed him acting roles. “When Topor laughs,” wrote author Wolfram Siebeck, “leaves are stripped from trees.” In Werner Herzog’s film Nosferatu the Vampyre, a remake of the German Expressionist classic, Topor, playing a minor character, lets out a haunting guffaw that resonates for minutes, echoing over a vast landscape of rats

On his last visit to New York, I threw Roland a big bash in my home. I invited mostly artists, covered the walls with butcher paper, and put out cans of paint. In the beginning of the evening, the paper boasted marvelous images that merited framing. But after all the vodka the Poles brought was consumed, there was nothing but scatology and perversity.

For the party, I copied, in frosting. one of Topor’s drawings, “Happy End,” on a king-size sheet cake. When I gave the guest of honor a knife and bowl of water to cut the cake, he raised high his drawing arm, and, shouting “Merde!” dissected the cheeks with one karate chop.

 A Roland Topor self portrait

A Roland Topor self portrait