Charles Krafft's
Villa Delirium

Mike McGee
Larry Reid

(Grand Central Press/
Last Gasp)
Remember Paul's grandfather, the old goat in A Hard Day's Night. At one point, he has everyone fighting with everyone else, the TV producer in tears, Ringo running away on the streets. And Paul says, in despair, "You have to watch out for him. He's a king mixer."

Well, Charles Krafft is just such a mixer. He pretends to be an eccentric artist, but he's a bona fide troublemaker. His last showing in Santa Ana at the state college had the students up in arms. Oh, not with his Adolf Hitler Teapot. That's fine with them. Nor the Delft pottery hand grenades and (get this) a plate commemorating the bombing of Dresden, 1945.

Nah --- the students thought all that was fine. It was the bunny that got them. A pretty little pottery bunny, with its paws up in the air, head turned to the side --- and a switchblade knife buried deep in its back (Charlie called it "The Sal Mineo Bunny.")

The Animal Rights people at Santa Ana State U. got up in arms about that one. Parades, letters to the editor, bomb threats. To hell with the Martha Stewart "vitreous porcelain" skateboard. Forget the "Forgiveness Coquette Ad" --- showing a smiling lady next to a perfume bottle (complete with swastika) --- labeled "Sweeter than the Sharpened Edge of Mercy." Ignore the "Sponeware"™ --- china plates made from the ashes of the recently deceased. Don't even mention my personal favorites --- the Chinet paper plates with mug shots of obvious deviants, or the trompe 'loeil painting of a exquisitely wrought Delft plate showing a man in a robe in obvious distress, a pistol to his head. The title: Suicide Club.

Nope --- it's the endangered bunnies that count, bunnies with a knife in the back!

§     §     §

Despite his virulent attempts to defeat publicity, it looks like Charlie is about to get known. The New Yorker has done Disasterware™, as has Harper's, Wired, the AP, and the Head of Protocol of the Slovenia Ministry of Defense. I didn't fabricate this last one, nor did the artist. Charlie has found, late in life, the love of his life, a sweet young thing from Slovenia named Mihaela. She'll have nothing to do with him, however, so not being able to love her, he loves her country. The government --- or at least what remains of it --- has made Charlie their national artist. They apparently think that his Delft pottery Smith & Wessons, ceramic Berettas and switch-blades are the cats' pajamas.

They aren't even offended --- as perhaps the NRA should be --- by the Hermann Göring memorial overglaze ceramic gun with his famous quote inscribed on the barrel, "Whenever I hear the word culture I reach for my pistol."

If you ask me, Charlie's a pistol too. When I first knew him forty years ago, he was painting strange birds and quasi-religious still-lifes. When I asked him to visit me down in Puerto Perdido a couple of years ago, he stayed for a month, gave me some lovely bird drawings --- painted on the paper they wrap tortillas in! --- for recompense for my troubles.

The troubles have to do with Charlie's loving ways: he adores the world, and all the creatures therein. Therefore, he was forever and a day dragging home a variety of Gringo no-goodniks, remittance men and women who lounge around this area because of the $4 a gallon tequila. They get stupid drunk every day, smoke like fiends, and once they glom onto someone like Charlie, they're in their element.

So Charlie hangs around with what you and I might call low-lifes, and sometimes it pays off. While in Amsterdam, he was seeking the secret to Delft china painting technique, but the professionals there wouldn't give him the time of day. Charlie writes, "It was as though I were asking for human organs or weapons-grade plutonium --- two other Dutch exports shrouded in secrecy."

However, "above Hanky Panky's Tattoo Museum" he met a Hell's Angel named Uno who had studied the technique for three years. Thus Charlie was able learn the ins and outs at the booted foot of a tattooed master.

§     §     §

Like R. Crumb, Charlie exposes himself mercilessly, in this book and elsewhere. But this particular book is a scandal of the first order. Not for the reason you think. It's a pisser because --- although the illustrations (over a hundred in number) are a delight --- the text is lumpy and the layout is right out of the old Berkeley Barb.

The pity of it is that among his other talents, Charlie is a crackerjack stylist and could have done this one on his own. Let us hope the next time a publisher gets it into his head to expose him to the world that they will allow his graceful and often mordantly brilliant words to form the text.

--- R. V. Kunkle

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