Erik Dekker with Remy  Photo courtesy of author

Erik Dekker with Remy

Photo courtesy of author

by Erik Dekker

In 1997, I was a disillusioned artist living in San Francisco. For six years prior, after graduating from college with a degree in art, I wanted to be a painter but did not possess the networking and self promotion skills necessary to establish myself in the art world. I threw myself into various things: graphic design, cartooning, illustration, film making, acting, dance, set design, and performance art, but none of it led to much. Flailing, unable to focus or commit, and pessimistic about making a living as an artist, I was stuck. Then I met Remy and he offered me a job helping him with his children’s books. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to work with an accomplished, well-known artist, to be taken under his wing, and learn the secrets to his success. I had no idea what I was in for.

Remy could be a difficult boss. He was very particular about how he wanted things done. Remy insisted that I do things over and over to get them just right. He focused on the smallest details, believing that they were the key to making something truly great. Occasionally, we clashed. I sometimes perceived him as petty, manipulative, and infuriating, while he saw me as intentionally slow and difficult. Epic fights ensued. Remy’s impulse was to resolve the issue, to challenge me, which could lead to my feelings getting hurt. I would behave in a sullen and aloof manner, holding onto my anger for days while we worked in an awkward silence.

Most of the time, however, we thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. Although we worked hard, we also took frequent breaks. If we got hungry, we’d stop to eat. If we were tired, we’d take a nap. As a dancer and Alexander teacher, Remy was quick to notice bad posture, which lead to impromptu bodywork sessions. Occasionally, we would hear about an interesting movie and stop working early to go see it. Remy believed in working hard, but also in enjoying himself and I happily accompanied him on his many outings to restaurants, dance performances, awards ceremonies, and to visit friends.

Over the the years, Remy and I developed a deep and enduring friendship, partly based on our mutual devotion to making beautiful things. We bonded over making things perfect. Recognizing the folly in our obsessiveness, we half-joked about always leaving something imperfect in order to not upset the “Spider Goddess”. Remy and I were also drawn to each other as opposites: He was a caregiver and I was self-absorbed; he liked being the mentor and I liked being told what to do and then rebelling against it; he would confront me, and I would withdraw. Fast and slow, emotional and detached, New York and California - we would drive each other crazy but we also somehow balanced each other out.

I discovered that I was suited to meeting his high demands and I came to enjoy the different aspects of my work; painting backgrounds, cutting and marking pages, cleaning up artwork, making lists, organizing, making copies, and correcting proofs. While the work could be tedious, I had an affinity for it and was grateful to be a part of something greater than myself. I enjoyed making a contribution to books that would go out into the world, be read by and influence other people. While working as Remy’s assistant for three years, I helped him with the production of three picture books (Peanut Butter Party, Mother Mother, I Feel Sick; Send for the Doctor, Quick, Quick, Quick, and Sleepytime Rhyme) and did the lettering for another (Why I Will Never, Ever, Ever, Ever, Have Enough Time to Read This Book). During this time, we reviewed contracts, corresponded with publishers, co-taught bookmaking workshops, mounted exhibits of his artwork, and performed at dance events. Remy also introduced me to inspiring artists such as Lou Harrison, Ruth Asawa, and Paulus Berensohn. My time as Remy’s assistant greatly informed the person and artist I am now.

Remy helped me immeasurably both as an artist and in my personal life. Remy was always interested in what was going on with me and was always present to offer support and advice. When I decided it was time to focus on my own artwork, I applied to attend Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and Remy wrote me a glowing recommendation. Two years later, when I returned from Penland without a job or a place to live, he asked me to illustrate a book he had written and offered me a place to stay. Remy encouraged me to go to 12-step meetings, which led to therapy and the confrontation of emotional/psychological issues to arrive at some life goals. Eventually, I went back to school, found work as an artist and designer and fell in love with an amazing woman, who I married and have a daughter with.

During his lifetime, Remy’s incredible generosity helped many - he was compelled to reach out and lift up people who needed it. I am forever indebted to Remy for his support and I'm eternally grateful to have worked with, and to have been friends with such a truly remarkable and loving man.

Eric Dekker is a content manager for CrowdStar, a mobile gaming company in Burlingame, CA. He has also worked as an artist and designer for various media, including illustrating the book, Rien, written by Remy Charlip. He lives in Oakland, CA with his wife and daughter.