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Surrealist Renate Druks, visionary painter of cats and muse of Anaïs Nin, receives the spotlight at the Independent Art Fair

By on May 5, 2022 0

Wide-eyed, hypnotic cats stare at the canvases. Beside them, women lying languidly in a state of undress.

These are the peculiar and haunting visions of Renate Druks, an obscure Viennese artist who lived and worked in Los Angeles in the middle of the last century. During her lifetime, Druks was a close friend of writer Anaïs Nin, painter Marjorie Cameron and filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and was better known as a creative muse than for her own work.

Renate Druks, spring fever (1979). Courtesy of The Ranch, Montauk.

But Druks’ wonderfully weird creations may soon earn their own rewards. This weekend, in a booth at the Independent Art Fair, Montauk art venue The Ranch will bring Druks’ paintings to new eyes.

Rancher Max Levai first became familiar with the artist’s works through Lisa Janssen, a filmmaker who was researching the work of Kenneth Anger. [Janssen is now working on a biography of Druks]. “Renate Druks’ artistic output continually arose in Janssen’s research into Kenneth Anger and his Los Angeles counterculture film circle,” said Levai, who exhibited Druks’ work for the first time at the Ranch l ‘last year. He believes that the story of his life and work is an important missing link in the history of art.

Renate Druks, white female and gray male (1979).  Courtesy of the Ranch.

Renate Druks, White female and gray male (1979). Courtesy of The Ranch, Montauk.

Born in Vienna in 1921, Druks studied at the Vienna Art Academy for Women. In 1938, Druks, who was Jewish, fled Austria with her American husband, arriving soon after in Los Angeles. Druks immersed herself in an experimental art scene in Los Angeles and lived for three years in Mexico, where she devoted herself to developing her own idiosyncratic style.

Renate Druks, Beauty and the Beast, (1953).  Courtesy of The Ranch, Montauk.

Renate Druks, The beauty and the Beast (1953). Courtesy of The Ranch, Montauk.

In Malibu, Druks became famous for throwing extravagant costume parties. One of these masked balls, called “Come as your madness, became the inspiration for Anger’s 1954 short “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome”, in which Druks would appear. In 1957, she made her debut first major solo exhibition at the Lane Galleries in Westwood, California, which received critical acclaim.

Over the decades, the house of Druks has become a nexus where artists, writers and actors have come together. She has made several of her own films, including Diary of a Painter. His paintings today seem strangely prescient, often exploring ideas of tarot and mysticism. Druks was also a cat lover – and many of the paintings on display at the fair depict her cats, in groups or alone, and they provide a fitting introduction to the artist’s remarkable work spanning five decades. (In tarot, cats are considered keepers of secrets.)

Renate Druks, Cleopatra (1970-1971).  Courtesy of The Ranch, Montauk.

Renate Druks, Cleopatra (1970–71). Courtesy of The Ranch, Montauk.

What secrets have the Druks paintings not yet divulged? “Druks has developed an entirely under-examined visual world,” Levai said. “The links of his paintings with a surrealist diaspora woven in Mexico and the United States by women were undeniable: his seductresses, his cats, his theatrical references and his occult symbology reveal a critical extension of surrealism and presage a history of feminist art – surfacing as a disappearing link between Leonora Carrington and Leonor Fini.

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