The character who serves as a sort of Master of Ceremonies in Anaïs Nin’s final novel, Collages, named Renate, is based on one of Nin’s closest friends, Renate Druks. When Paul Mathiesen, one of Anaïs Nin’s many young homosexual friends at the time, paid her a visit in Sierra Madre in 1953, he mentioned Druks, a “Viennese painter” with a young son from a previous marriage. Shortly thereafter, Nin met her at Druks’ Malibu home and was instantly enamored. She’d found a soul not unlike hers: “Renate’s gift is a heightened mood which communicates itself to others. She creates in a state of natural intoxication” (Diary 5, 132).
It was Druks and Mathiesen who concocted a masquerade party for which guests were encouraged to “Come as your madness,” and this inspired one of the guests—avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger—to create Inauguration of the Pleasuredome, [the entire 38 minute film can be watched by clicking here] in which Nin, Druks, and Mathiesen appeared. One of the most iconic scenes is an abstraction of the costume Nin wore at the party, which she describes below:
I wore a skin-colored leotard, leopard-fur earrings glued to my naked breasts, and a leopard-fur belt around my waist. Gil Henderson painted on my bare back a vivid jungle scene. I wore eyelashes two inches long. My hair was dusted with gold powder. My head was inside of a birdcage. From within the cage, through the open gate, I pulled out an endless roll of paper on which I had written lines from my books. The ticker tape of the unconscious. I unwound this and handed everyone a strip with a message. (Diary 5 133)
Anger was a mutual friend of Nin and Druks, and through him both were introduced to Marjorie Cameron, a painter who appeared in Pleasuredome. According to Nin, “Curtis [Harrington], Kenneth [Anger], and Paul talked of Cameron as capable of witchcraft. She was the dark spirit of the group. Her paintings were ghostly creatures of nightmares. In connection with her, this was the first time I heard about [occultist] Aleister Crowley. There is an aura of evil around her. Her husband [Jack Parsons] was a scientist [with JPL] who delved in the occult. He was blown up during an experiment in his garage” (Diary 5131). (Today, there are those who wonder how it was possible a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer could wind up killing himself during a home experiment—but that’s a whole other consideration.) It is said that Nin largely dissociated herself from Anger and his circle because of her distaste for the occult—indeed, Nin only mentions one other meeting with Anger, in Paris in 1960.
Druks’ relationships with gay and bisexual men proved to be extremely painful. In Collages, the character Renate has a similar problem with her companion Bruce, who is a composite character of both Mathiesen and football player Ronnie Knox. Renate detests Bruce’s secret rendezvous with his young male lovers and is tormented by the lies and deception. Bruce then devises a method by which Renate can feel secure:
“It is my secrecy which makes you unhappy, my evasions, my silences. And so I have found a solution. Whenever you get desperate with my mysteries, my ambiguities, here is a set of Chinese puzzle boxes. You have always said that I was myself a Chinese puzzle box. When you are in the mood and I baffle your love of confidences, your love of openness, your love of sharing experiences, then open one of the boxes. And in it you will find a story, a story about me and my life. Do you like this idea? Do you think it will help us to live together?”
Renate laughed and accepted. She took the armful of boxes and laid them away on the top shelf of a closet. (Collages 29)
Of course, what Renate discovers in the boxes is too honest, too explicit and ultimately destroys her relationship with Bruce. In Nin’s diary, one can see from where the idea of Chinese puzzle boxes comes: “I have only seen [Mathiesen] angry and fierce once. Renate…is born to open Pandora’s box. Paul’s soul is like those Japanese boxes one can only open with infinite patience…“ (Diary 6 33). “Paul says severely: ‘You insisted on entering a world which was locked to you. You crashed through. And now what you found hurts you… I have never given anyone what belongs to you‘“ (Diary 5 195). Renate and Paul eventually parted ways.
Druks’ son, Peter Loomer, as a young child was full of dreams and expressed himself through drawings that were far ahead of his age in their maturity. Nin collected several and eventually used some in her limited-edition paperback Solar Barque, privately published in 1958. Tragically, Peter committed suicide in December 1964 at the age of 21, just after the release of Collages. It was emotionally devastating to Druks, who, according to Nin, never truly recovered: “Renate went through an agony which was as terrible as the death itself. It was a nightmare from which she could not awaken…a period of insane grief. She wailed, and wept and lamented…her voice over the telephone was a long cry of pain. This was a bitterer sorrow than the ordinary death of a child. It was an unbearable burden on a mother’s sense of responsibility for her child” (Diary 6 371).
Although Druks and Nin remained friends till Nin’s death in 1977, the details of Druks’ life afterward is fuzzy, especially during her last years. According to a genealogy site, she died in 2007, but many of her friends today were, or perhaps still are, unaware of this. She seems to have dropped off the planet, so to speak, and those who tried to contact her during the past decade or so were given vague answers as to her whereabouts. Even her artist’s web site (now defunct) did not acknowledge her death. So there is a good deal of mystery surrounding Renate Druks, one of Anaïs Nin’s most loyal friends. Anyone having any information about her is encouraged to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sky Blue Press has published Collages as an e-book for the first time. It joins several other Nin titles on Kindle: The Winter of Artifice, Under a Glass Bell, Ladders to Fire, Children of the Albatross, A Spy in the House of Love, and Seduction of the Minotaur, and The Four-Chambered Heart, with others to follow.