Roland Topor



Roland Topor catalogue published in Japan in 1996. Includes examples of Topor’s surreal, black humour through many colour and black and white illustrations and etchings, alongside texts, biography and a long interview with Topor, all in Japanese.

Roland Topor was one of the most unique and versatile French artists of the second half of the 20th century, working prolifically as a provocative and spirited illustrator, author, humorist, satirist, play-write, actor, poet, painter, performer, sculptor, and much more. Son of a Parisian painter and sculptor of Polish-Jewish descent, in 1941, Topor’s father was arrested and sent to camp Pithiviers. Two years later, the family moved to Savoy, where they baptised their son to hide his real identity. After the war, he studied art at the Institute of Beautiful Arts in Paris. He discovered surrealism, Hieronymus Bosch and the scatological plays of Alfred Jarry, which would influence his work and his attitude to life in general.

In 1958, he published his first work in magazines such as Bizarre and later Elle. Three years later, he joined the anarchic group of artists who created the controversial magazine Hara-Kiri, publishing his surreal juxtapositions of people, animals, plants and objects. Topor seldom used words in his illustrations, leaving all power to the visual. In February 1962, Topor, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Olivier O. Olivier, Jacques Sternberg, Christian Zeimert, Abel Ogier and Fernando Arrabal founded the “Mouvement Panique” (“Panic Movement”). This collective focused on creating absurd and bewildering performances to reject the commercialization of surrealism. The founders created many provocative and surreal works in the next decade before Jodorowsky dissolved the movement in 1973. However, Topor continued making scandalous plays afterwards, including ‘Le Bébé de Monsieur Laurent’ (1975) and ‘Vinci avait raison’ (1976).
In print, Topor’s history is legendary. In 1964 Topor published his debut novel ‘Le Locataire Chimérique’ (‘The Tenant’, 1964), a psychological horror story about a man moving in an apartment where he is gradually pestered into madness by the other inhabitants. The work was adapted to film in 1976 by Roman Polanski and both the book as well as the picture are cult classics to this day. His 1980s pamphlet ‘100 Bonnes Raisons Pour Me Suicider’ (‘100 Good Reasons To Commit Suicide’) is another example of his taste for black comedy. The most unique and unusual book in Topor’s oeuvre must be ‘Souvenir’ (1972), a kind-of Fluxus obscurity featuring a text with all the sentences scratched out to the point of being unreadable. When the artist was interviewed on Dutch television by Adriaan van Dis to read some extracts from it Topor accepted the request by holding his hand in front of his mouth and mumble through it. In 1966 Topor illustrated ‘Topographie Anécdotée du Hasard’ (Anecdoted Topography of Chance) by Swiss assemblage artist Daniel Spoerri. Following a rambling conversation with his friend Robert Filliou in 1961, Daniel Spoerri one day mapped the objects lying at random on the table in his room, adding a rigorously scientific description of each. These objects subsequently evoked associations, memories and anecdotes from both the original author and his friends Filliou, Emmett Williams, Dieter Roth and Roland Topor. Considered a “quasi-autobiographical tour de force”, incredible book was published in 1966 by the Something Else Press in New York City. Topor added sketches of each object. Acknowledged as one of the most important and entertaining artists’ books of the postwar period, An Anecdoted Topography of Chance is a unique collaborative work by four artists associated with the Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme movements.
Topor also had an interest in film. He designed the posters of movies such as ‘L’Ibis Rouge’ (1975), ‘Ai no borei’ (‘The Empire of Passion’, 1978) and ‘Die Blechtrommel’ (‘The Tin Drum’, 1979). His drawings can also be seen during the opening titles of Fernando Arrabal’s experimental film ‘Viva La Muerte’ (1971) and during the magic lantern sequence in Federico Fellini’s ‘Il Casanova di Fellini’ (1976). He also worked as an actor, appearing in Dusan Makavejev’s ‘Sweet Movie’ (1974) and as Dracula’s assistant Renfield in Werner Herzog’s horror remake of ‘Nosferatu’ (1979). The latter film has also immortalized his notorious hysterical and chilling laugh.
Together with René Laloux, he created the animated shorts ‘Les Temps Morts’ (1964) and ‘Les Escargots’ (‘The Snails’, 1965) and the full length animated feature ‘La Planète Sauvage’ (‘Fantastic Planet’, 1973). The latter work was based on Stefan Wul’s science fiction novel ‘Oms en Série’ and takes place on a surreal planet where gigantic blue aliens treat humans as pets. ‘La Planète Sauvage’ won the special jury prize at the Festival of Cannes and has achieved cult status over the years. 
Topor was a frequent guest in the philosophical radio show ‘Des Papous dans la tête’ (1984) at France Culture. Together with his good friend and playwright Jean-Michel Ribes, he wrote scripts for the satirical TV sketch series ‘Merci Bernard’ (1982-1984) on France 3 and ‘Palace’ (1988-1989) on Canal +. They wrote the theatrical play ‘Batailles’ (1983) about people of different social classes stranded on a raft, which was a satirical allegory of capitalism. Another collaborative project was the comedy film ‘La Galette du Roi’ (1985). In 1975 he recorded an album with his Belgian friend Freddy De Vree called ‘Panic (The Golden Years)’. It features Topor being interviewed by De Vree on the Flemish public radio channel BRT 3. Apart from talking he also recites some nonsensical songs, including the Dutch nursery rhyme ‘Iene miene mutte’ and the tongue twister ‘De kat krabt de krullen van de trap.’ Topor also wrote two songs, ‘Je m’aime’ and ‘Monte dans mon ambulance’, which were set to music by François d’Aime and recorded by Japanese singer Megumi Satsu in 1980.
In the 1980s, Topor published in Le Petit Psikopat Illustré, an alternative review, and also teamed up with Belgian film director Henri Xhonneux to create the cult children’s series ‘Téléchat’, a news show featuring anthropomorphic animals and objects and marionets presenting news. The program received various awards, including the 1984 award for best French broadcast for children and adolescents at the Festival of Cannes. It was also nominated for an Emmy in 1985.
Topor and Xhonneux joined forces again in 1989 to create the film ‘Marquis’, which was loosely based on the life and work of the notorious Marquis de Sade. The actors performed in animal masks and De Sade’s penis was made into a separate puppet with a human face and the ability to talk. Due to the unusualness of its execution it became a cult favorite.

* Condition: Good – (cover wear/rubbing, otherwise tight and clean throughout) – All care is taken to provide accurate condition details of used books, photos available on request.

Roland Topor (1996)
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