A prolific polymath, Roland Topor worked across multiple disciplines, often demonstrating a penchant for dark humour and absurdity.Read More
Roland Topor was born in Paris to a Polish-Jewish family, who moved to Savoy during the Second World War. After the war ended, Topor returned to Paris to study at the École Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts. In 1960, the artist began illustrating cartoons for the magazine Hara-Kiri, gaining attention—and notoriety—for his subversive and graphic images.
Two years later, Topor co-founded the Mouvement Panique or Panic Movement with artists Alejandro Jodorowsky and Olivier O. Olivier, film director and poet Fernando Arrabal, and writer Jacques Sternberg, among others, which responded to the commercialisation of Surrealism by staging shocking and surreal happenings. A combination of the surreal and horror would continue throughout Topor's following work.
Roland Topor worked across illustration, painting, drawing, poetry, literature, film and animation, and acting and singing.
In the 1960s, the artist began to collaborate with animator and film director René Laloux to produce animated films.
Topor's characteristic wit is evident in the short film Les Escargots (1965), in which a desperate farmer grows crops by watering them with his tears, only to lose them to snails that grow to a monstrous scale. In 1973, Topor and Laloux completed the full-feature Fantastic Planet, set in a fictional planet whose native species enslaved humans. Earning critical acclaim, the work was awarded the Grand Prix special jury prize at that year's Cannes Film Festival.
Like his cartoons and animated films, Topor's paintings and works on paper show stylised figures and animals in scenes that oscillate between humorous and disturbing. Set in what appears to be a hospital ward, the ink-and-pencil drawing Souvenir de guerre de 14 (1976) shows a wounded man inspecting his bare knees, where nipples seem to have grown, as a fellow patient looks over them in bewilderment. The painting En soi-même (1996) could be described as gore, showing a white bird whose head has penetrated its own body, but Topor's deadpan style—omitting blood and other bodily matter—render the otherwise disturbing image palatable.
Topor continued to write throughout his career, contributing to magazines, publishing novels, and writing screenplays. One of his most well-known written works is The Tenant (1964), a novel about a man surrounded by bizarre new neighbours in an apartment, which was later adapted into a horror film by Roman Polanski in 1972.
In 1975, Topor wrote the stories for the silent comedy La Fille du garde-barrière (1975) and in the following decade adapted the life and writings of Marquis De Sade into the film Marquis (1989) with his friend, Belgian film director Henri Xhonneaux.
Topor has also appeared in films such as Sweet Movie (1974) by the groundbreaking Serbian film director Dušan Makavejev and Werner Herzog's horror film Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979).
Before his death in 1997, Roland Topor exhibited his paintings and drawings in major art institutions around the world including Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1975); Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp (1979); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1984); and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1996).
Select solo exhibitions of Roland Topor's work include Roland Topor, Musée de l'illustration jeunesse, Moulins (2019); Roland Topor: Panoptikum, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany (2018); Le Monde selon Topor, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris (2017); Roland Topor, génie connu et méconnu, Galerie Anne Barrault, Paris (2014).
Select group exhibitions include Marginalia, Nouveau Musée National de Monaco — Villa Sauber (2021); Opéra Monde, la quête d'un art total, Centre Pompidou-Metz, France (2019); mon enfant peut en faire autant, Galerie Anne Barrault, Paris (2018); La famille Topor, Musée Municipal de la Ville de Sosnowiec — Palais de Schoen, Pologne (2016).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021