[Paleopsych] NYT: Mr. Natural's Creator Visits the World of Art
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Sat Apr 16 13:33:10 UTC 2005
Mr. Natural's Creator Visits the World of Art
April 16, 2005
By RANDY KENNEDY
The cartoonist R. Crumb has never been sure what to make of praise
for his work from the noncomics art world. He once drew a pitiful
buck-toothed portrait of himself wearing a beret and a bewildered
look, exclaiming in a half-literate word bubble: "Broigul I ain't ...
Let's face it." And his view of most fine art is equally dismissive:
he calls it a land of "cake eaters," rolling his eyes behind his
trademark Coke-bottle glasses.
But in a rare public appearance on Thursday night at the New York
Public Library, Mr. Crumb took the stage with one of the more famous
cake eaters in the art world, the critic Robert Hughes, who has
compared Mr. Crumb not only to Bruegel but also to Goya, one of Mr.
Hughes's favorite artists and the subject of his latest book. In 1994
Mr. Hughes appeared as a talking head, a kind of lone voice from the
establishment art world, in Terry Zwigoff's hit documentary "Crumb,"
but until Thursday night, the two men had never met. Introduced as
"two very naughty boys" before a sold-out crowd, they made an odd
Mr. Hughes, 66, barrel-chested and blustery, commanded the stage and
in a mostly dogged manner tried to plumb the depths of the funny,
disturbing cartoons that have honestly and bleakly chronicled Mr.
Crumb's own life. Mr. Crumb, 61, still as thin and gangly as his
cartoons portray him, often slumped in his chair, politely made fun of
himself, Mr. Hughes and the whole pretense of an art discussion, and
occasionally fumbled with his tie, making his clip microphone emit a
loud thump that caused him to jump comically.
But as different as the men were, they discovered that they had a lot
of common ground in their disdain for much of contemporary art. In
fact, despite his subversive, counterculture reputation, Mr. Crumb
came off as even more conservative in his opinions about art than Mr.
Hughes, who generally likes his art "cake" well aged.
"I thought that nobody hated Warhol and what he stood for more than
me," Mr. Hughes said at one point, "but my, oh my, you do."
The discussion was Mr. Crumb's only public speaking appearance in the
United States to promote his new book, "The R. Crumb Handbook," a
memoir in collaboration with his friend, Peter Poplaski, published
this month. While Mr. Crumb, who now lives in southern France, has
often shunned popular culture (he famously turned down offers to be
the host of "Saturday Night Live" and to design an album cover for the
Rolling Stones, saying he hated that band), he has ventured much
further into public in recent years, partly because of the urging of
his wife, the cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb.
Mr. Crumb, who has said he loathes the fashion world, recently helped
the designer Stella McCartney make a limited-edition T-shirt with his
comics on the front that sells for more than $150. He has appeared at
lavish parties for the T-shirt in London and New York. He now has a
Web site, www.crumbproducts.com, where fans can buy a Mr. Natural
table lamp for $825. And to promote the new book, its publisher, MQ
Publications of London, is conducting an R. Crumb look-alike contest
in the United States. (The winner gets a "date" with Ms.
During the discussion with Mr. Hughes - which did not stint on classic
Crumb references to fellatio, beheaded nuns, near-severed penises and
throwing up while on LSD - Mr. Crumb often seemed to be of two minds
about his fame and increasing acceptance in the gallery-art world,
which ignored him for so long. He said that as a disaffected young
man, if he had not had the outlet of drawing, he probably would have
ended up sketching his lurid, big-bottomed female characters "on some
prison wall or in a lunatic asylum someplace, or I'd be dead."
"Now I'm better," he said, adding that "getting famous helped." But
then he immediately countered that it could be "hell on earth," and in
one exchange with the audience - which included his fellow cartoonists
Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffith - he mocked his contradictory needs.
"I want everyone to love me," he said, half-mockingly, after
explaining that he was once shocked to learn that the racial
stereotypes and violence toward women he portrayed in his work were
hurtful to many people. "Please love me," Mr. Crumb added.
A woman in the audience then shouted, "We love you!," and Mr. Crumb
held up his hands, cringing, to stop the applause.
"O.K., you love me," he responded, laughing. "You're killing me, you
love me so much. You're choking me. Now back off."
After the discussion, Mr. Crumb quickly ducked out of the library,
avoiding a throng of fans, and later joined Mr. Hughes for dinner,
where they took a while to warm up to each other, but by the end were
in a spirited discussion about Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, whom
Mr. Hughes interviewed in the late 1970's.
Mr. Hughes told about an exchange in which Speer said that
architecture was certainly one way to unite a people, but that if the
Nazis had had television, there would have been no stopping them.
Mr. Crumb, finishing his plate of baked chicken, beamed. "Oh, that's
great," he said. "It's true."
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