[Paleopsych] NYT: Mr. Natural's Creator Visits the World of Art

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Mr. Natural's Creator Visits the World of Art
April 16, 2005


    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, [2]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."


    1. http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=RANDY%20KENNEDY&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=RANDY%20KENNEDY&inline=nyt-per
    2. http://www.crumbproducts.com/

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