Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Renate Druks

There are some stories I would like to tell that I don't because it seems too hard to start at the beginning, or else there is too much detail there that I didn't appreciate at the time and too many cool things I let slip through my fingers when I had the chance, so I just try to move on, to avoid pangs of regret.  My stepmom's friendship with the artist and old Malibu art scene personality Renate Druks is one of these stories.  

My dad and stepmom inherited all her artwork and personal effects when she passed away, and I think the heavy ghost of Renate was too much for them, too, because they have longterm loaned her artwork and effects to Mike, a Renate aficionado who has done a remake of Renate's 1973 experimental short film Spaceboy.  Mike is sort of the curator of her stuff for right now, and I feel like my entire family sort of relies on him to show the proper homage to and interest in her and her work.  I can't overestimate how hard it is for me to explain how cool her story was or how interesting it was to be involved with her when she was alive; I'm so lazy about it I'm going to lift her Curriculum Vitae from the website I run for her artwork (and I didn't even write this; it was written possibly by her and was on some yellowing piece of paper clipped to a roll of posters of her "Our Lady of Malibu" painting):  

"Born in Vienna Austria in 1921, Renate Druks first studied art at the Vienna Art Academy for Women and later at the Art Students League in New York City.

After her formal training Ms. Druks  embarked on the life adventures that would further shape her craft, taking up residence in Mexico where she spent three years of intensive self study, painting tirelessly and developing her own techniques and personal style.  By 1950 Renate Druks had moved to Malibu California, then a rural strip of coastline,  where she built a house and studio.  
Ms. Druks first major solo-artist show, at the Lane Galleries in Westwood California, opened in 1957 and brought "instant" success, and critical acclaim. Ms. Druks showed and sold her paintings exclusively at the Lane Galleries until 1965.  Thereafter, Ms. Druks exhibited at several galleries in the Los Angeles area including the Image and Myth, Mascagnis, the Malibu Art and Design Gallery, and the Municipal Art Gallery in Barsdall Park.                                
Later, the Malibu home became the showplace where patrons and collectors gathered to view, commission and purchase Ms. Druks' work. The home also became a well known salon for avant garde artists, actors, film makers, writers and theatre personalities.  Visitors to the home and studio included: Kenneth Anger, Don Bachardy, Barbette, Louis and Bebe Barron, James Bridges, Colleen Dewhurst, Doris Dowling, Galanos, Rudi Gernreich, Gerald Heard, Curtis Harrington, John and Joan Houseman, Christopher Isherwood, Jack Larson, Henry Miller, Dudley and Virginia Murphy, Jose Quintero, Harry Partch, Virgil Thompson, Mary Wigmam, Rupert Pole, and good friend Anais Nin.  Ms. Nin and Ms. Druks had been friends since the famous "Come as Your Madness" masquerade ball, thrown at the Malibu home in 1953   Indeed Kenneth Anger's film "Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome" grew out of this ball.  Ms. Druks acted in the film, designed makeup and assisted in the production. The portrait above depicts Anais Nin in her costume.

 Later, Ms. Druks produced and directed several films of her own Including "A Painter's Journal" which showed in 18 West Coast art theatres."

This is also from our website (I think my dad wrote this before I took over):

"Renate Druks is a painter who creates stylized life forms that manage to capture on canvas the caricatured essence of men and women who pose as her subjects.  Like D.H. Lawrence before her, she manifests an uncanny understanding of all sentient life and assembles fantastic amalgamation of women and animals eerily metamorphosed into complementary figures.
Renate Druks' Romantic Realism paintings, however marginally related to the psychedelic influences in the arts at the time, became very popular during the 1960's and 1970's for album covers, movie posters, book covers and magazines.

Collector Herbert Cobey, formerly a Director of the Brooklyn Museum, had this to say about Renate Druks work : Renate Druks, in my opinion, in certain particular ways, is the finest artist in the United States today and one of the best in the world. "  

Arthur Miller said this:  "Real imagination, good drawing and personal technique."

Anais Nin effused: "In the paintings of Renate Druks, one can contemplate what happens when the imagination is allowed to run free.  She is painting the whole mythology of woman in relation to the animal both wild and domestic.  Look at the paintings of Renate Druks. Enter her world of women, animals, trees, rocks oceans and mountains never seen before.  It is her dream in which we can participate with all our senses.  Emerging form it we can say to ourselves: We have seen the Beauty and the Beast and the Beast was beautiful too.  The true meaning of Romantic Realism is the painting which reveals the romanticism which lies around  us in our reality." "

Interesting, right?  She and my stepmom became friends a long time ago when my stepmom worked at the Malibu grocery store and artist's hangout Renate went to, and Renate asked to draw her.  They were friends from then on.  My stepmom had a full life before I ever knew her, though, so there were a lot of people she knew or things she did that were commonplace for her but that I didn't know about for a long time, and her friendship with Renate was one of those things.  When Renate was a lonely old woman, my stepmom visited with her every Friday and took her out to eat or to LACMA, and when I was home from college, I went on 3 of these excursions.  She lived in a studio apartment in Hollywood filled with her giant paintings (she was very interested in using large canvases) and plants, a little futon in the corner surrounded by her large canvas fantastical landscapes.  She wasn't pleasant though, and even though old people deserve to be unpleasant or self-pitying, I wrote her off a bit because of it.  Then when I moved back to L.A., she had to go into an old folks home because she had a mini-stroke, and I got to move into her studio apartment for a few months, to sort through her belongings for what she needed at the home, what could be given to charity, and what items needed to be packed up and stored.  Living there was one of the highlights of my life.  Not only was it within walking distance of my favorite bar (and other fun things – it was 2 blocks west of the famous intersection of La Brea and Hollywood Blvd), but there was nothing cooler than getting a bit stoned and looking through her beautiful old things, her little mementos from the childhood of her deceased son (a 19 year old suicide who appeared in a Kenneth Anger film), her paintings, even a memoir she started once (she was an Austrian jew who married a rich old doctor, enabling her to move to the United States before the Nazis took Austria).  

She was living in a nice assisted living home only a few blocks away and I visited her to drop things off for her (like socks and shampoo) and keep her company, but if she enjoyed my visits, she had a funny way of showing it.  She was very unhappy about aging, and acted as though she didn't like to do anything but keep her own company.  While she was still alive, I got a gallery owner interested in showing her work, and there was an art show of her work and Dame Darcy's in the summer of 2005.  Renate didn't attend it, and I was out of the country, but my dad and stepmom were there and they told me how excited Dame Darcy and her entourage were by Renate's work and that they wanted to go visit her in the home and all these other nice things.  Big Surprise, that was the last they ever heard from Dame Darcy and there were no visits to Renate, who got more and more unhappy with aging, until she aged herself out of life, December 2007.  

Vanity and Obsession, 1973

One thing that really bums me out about Renate is all the missed opportunity.  For instance, she was very lonely for her peers (many of them were dead or else she felt forgotten by them), but when I was staying at her place, she often got calls from concerned old friends who wanted to see her – she told me not to give anyone her new phone number to them though, so I just took messages to give to her, and she never reached out to any of these friends.  But why?  Her last years could have been so much happier.  

Also, when I google her now, I see so much interest in her, and also as the facilitator of the website for her artwork, I get emails asking about her, like is she still living, how can people find out more about her work, all this interest – I wish it'd been there when she was living and she could have known about it.  I also regret that I haven't been able to keep better track of her little tchotchkes that I kept for myself when she passed.  I had this beautiful pair of earrings she made while in Mexico, for instance, and they were seriously my good luck earrings, and somewhere along the way I lost one of them.  I've also lost track of other little things of hers that were unique and uniquely her.  We have a few of her paintings hanging up though, and when people ask me about the artist, I don't know where to begin.

Promotional photo of Renate with the stars Katharine Ross and James Caan in front of Druks' painting for "Games"


  1. Hi!
    So interesting reading this, my Mom was a friend of Renate's from the late 60s. We met her through Raven, who lived in the apartment upstairs from us in West Hollywood. I got to visit her a couple of times in the Hollywood studio, and photographed her for a college portrait project. She was very happy with the results, I'm glad to say! She was a fascinating lady, and I still remember the story she told about making scrambled eggs for Hitler, she was a wonderful storyteller, too!
    I know my mom tried to look her up quite a while ago, but had no success, I'm glad to see this and the website you run as a tribute to Renate.
    My Mom had the original "Our Lady Of Malibu" which she gave to me a few years ago. She still has a few pieces of Renate's that she commissioned or bought, too. According to her, Renate said that the church didn't want the original, so she kept it, and then sold it to my Mom.
    Thanks for bringing us up to date! Can't wait to tell my Mom!


  2. My step-father was Renate's first husband and father to Peter Loomer.