Up until now, I hadn’t  thought about that night again. Perhaps when I saw something by Jan Cremer appear in the Dutch Playboy, such as when he did the cover for the edition’s fifteenth anniversary in 1998 and prior to that when his portfolio of erotic paintings of no other than Babette appeared in the pages of Playboy in all her carnal glory. And when I read about the publication of what is hailed as his masterpiece, 2000 page opus The Huns. Beyond that he seemed to have faded  into  the backdrop of my consciousness. That is, until very recently, when I was scanning the spines of the art books in my collection, I came upon a volume of what basically is a complete catalogue of his life and works spanning from 1957 to 1988, published  to coincide with the opening of his retrospective art exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in his home town of Enschede, from where it was scheduled to go to France, Germany, Switzerland and finally to the National Museum in Budapest.

There were mentions of his life as a fine artist in his Cremer books, but it never quite recorded in my memory. The catalogue is dedicated to me with the inscription: October 11, 1988 to Haresh Shah in Friendship, Jan Cremer. I have absolutely no recollection of ever having seen him again or been in touch with in any other way since our one and the only encounter in Amsterdam. Could it be that Mick Boskamp, the service editor of the Dutch edition who was spending a few days in Chicago around the same time brought it along? Mick too has absolutely no such recollection.  How did it then get to me? On the facing page to the dedication is a New York City address, written also in the same handwriting,  is the name and address of Sterling Lord Literistic – probably of his agent in the USA. Could it be that he was in New York that day and thought of me? Bit of a mystery to me, but it still pleases me to know that I could have left a positive impression with one of my favorite authors. Who as it turns out is as big an artist as he is an author. And in retrospect, it would be fair to say that he is a bigger artist than he ever became a writer.

I am not a good judge of art by any dint of imagination, but the only way I can describe his paintings in the catalogue is that they are abstracts with broad strokes of pleasing colors splashed across huge canvases. And it impresses and overwhelms to think how incredible it is for a single human being to be all that. His writing has often been compared with my all time favorite, Henry Miller, and now when I see his art, not the style and the objects he paints, but the idea of a writer also being an artist also puts him next to the old master, because Miller too picked up the brush in his sunset years and produced some beautiful watercolors.

Even though Cremer is an entire generation younger than Henry Miller, his I Jan Cremer would have never been allowed to be published in the United States if not for the battles fought over the publication of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in 1961, which wasn’t allowed to be distributed freely in his own country up until 1964, more than thirty years after it was originally published in France. The very year when Ik Jan Cremer came out in Holland and in 1965 in its English translation in the United States.

© Haresh Shah 2013

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

Next Friday, April 19, 2013

SEX EDUCATION À LA JAPONAISE

As excited  as I was when my boss assigned me to work in tandem with the Japanese editorial team, I also knew that Japanese were unlike any other people I had ever worked with and that I needed to know about them beyond the books I read. So before meeting with them, I embarked upon a weeklong journey of the country on their famed Shinkansan bullet trains. Crisscrossing the country, meeting people, visiting places, a university and pachinko parlors, staying only at the inns and eating only Japanese food, and yes, spend an afternoon watching  striptease.

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