Saul Steinberg Blows Into the Windy City

Earlier this year when I ran into my New Yorker cartoonist colleague, Ken Krimstein, one of the first things we talked about was the Steinberg exhibit that had opened in Ken’s hometown, Chicago.   I thought it would be interesting to hear what a New Yorker cartoonist thought of the show and Ken graciously agreed to review the exhibit for the Spill.  I received his fascinating take yesterday and am pleased to share it here.

 

Saul Steinberg Blows Into the Windy City

by Ken Krimstein

At least among my generation of cartoonists, three masters seem to be the entry level drug into making the stuff. Charles Addams, Don Martin, and Saul Steinberg. The precise balance of the three varies, but be sure, one of them is in there.

When you’re a young cartoonist, trying to peel yourself away from Rugrats or Marmaduke or Dick Tracy (not that there’s anything wrong with any of them), the coolness, line, precision, puzzling delight of Steinberg is catnip. Cartoons can do that? Weird, fun, challenging pictures that ignite something in your reptilian cartoonist brain and connect in a way, that at least for me, said, “holy crap, I’ve got to try to do that too!”

So you draw, and you read, and you devour everything you can about this quirky Romanian via Italian architecture school immigrant/refugee who was able to bamboozle the U.S. Army into making him an officer in WWII and who “owned” first chair at the New Yorker from the 40’s to the 80’s. I remember hearing Roger Angell, who ought to know, saying in his almost 70 years at The New Yorker he only marked two bona-fide geniuses. One was Nabokov. You can guess the other.

As I approached the modestly placed show, in a couple of side galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago, http://www.artic.edu/exhibition/along-lines-selected-drawings-saul-steinberg, “Along The Lines: Selected Drawings by Saul Steinberg,” I wondered what the effect would be on me? Would my guru still be singing his siren song? Or would his work seem like some tattered mid-century modern furniture at a second-hand shop? Would there be discoveries? Would there be some gags (a discipline which he quickly mastered and just as quickly seemed to abandon for his ‘thought drawings?’) How securely fastened were these pieces to the wall, and could I manage to escape with one?

But when I turned the corner into the gallery, my doubts were erased. Five of his paper bag masks stared, glared, grinned, cajoled, taunted right into my face. THE PAPER BAG MASKS!!! I had seen them so many times in photographs, but never in person. So amazing, so “breaking the fourth wall,” so tribal/modern, so right there, in front of me. I was disarmed.

The show is comprised of 54 “drawings” gifted to the Art Institute by the Saul Steinberg Foundation in 2013. Since I moved to Chicago from New York several years ago, I’d been longing to go into the print library and examine them. But here they were. And, in total, I’d have to say it is rare that any gallery show has as high a batting average of “holy-crap I wish I’d done that” worthy work as this one. True there was only one pure “gag,” and not incidentally it graces the cover of the catalog (a man laying on bar stools as if they’re a bed), not one of Steinberg’s greatest but still.

Aside from the wit, the “think,” it was the “ink” (or pencil, paint, chalk, foil, rubber stamp etc.) that blew me away. His ideas are fascinating, but his craft was a complete revelation. Up close and personal, his pen lines squeak, his colored pencils whisper, his paints sigh. The creamy paper, left open in large swathes, was as important as his markings. You don’t look at Saul Steinberg originals, you watch them!

I always knew Steinberg as a mind, now I could appreciate him as an eye. So when, in the second image, a crowd of Steinberg people (and a dog) stared up into space, into my eyes, at my eye level, I felt the cagey Romanian’s hands pulling me into the page. I started leaning in as close as the guards would allow, searching for hints of pencil lines, erasing? The layout of the pages, the fantasy, the filigree — more and more seductive. I was in his head, withered cowboys, wrinkled matrons, the full ghastly glory of 1950’s road trips across American in the enormous Cadillac (I know, because he had a drawing of himself driving it.)

As if to say, “take this printers!,” Steinberg takes that horrible phrase “mixed-media” and makes it noble. (Nobel?) In person, watercolors, colored pencils, wax pencils, and lamp-black ink ignite each other in a way that can’t be reproduced. It made me want to seek out “Ivory Wove Paper” whatever and wherever that stuff exists, and corner the market on it.

There were concepts galore, of course. Covers that were large and creamy and delightful. (Delight, in fact, is the refrain of this show.)

Steinberg took delight in letters, in weird words (KONAK), in clouds, in color, in splotches and feathery lines. My favorite piece? Ebbets field in Brooklyn, the brave lights, perched on crooked, patched together poles, pump their wan luminosity over the field, grim, street lamp-lit Brooklyn spreading around it like delightful human fungus. Or something like that. I loved it. Maybe because I once tried to visit Ebbets field and now it’s just a plaque on some housing project.

My other favorite (in Steinberg’s world you are allowed to have two favorites) is a breakfast still life, all light pencils and water color washes and sunlight and a slight hangover and you can feel the sun glowing and smell the coffee, thank God!

So, does he hold up? Oh, yes. But, he’s different to me now. Maybe because I’m different. My take-away, besides all that delight? He drew buildings like they were people and he drew people like they were buildings.

What did I learn from that? Nothing. And everything.

 

Along the Lines: Selected Drawing of Saul Steinberg, runs at the Art Institute of Chicago through October 29, 2017. http://www.artic.edu/exhibition/along-lines-selected-drawings-saul-steinberg

(Steinberg Mask above copyrighted by the artist)

 

About Ken Krimstein (pictured left, behind the Steinbergian mask):

Born, Chicago, Illinois. Raised in Deerfield Illinois. Began drawing at age one. Graduated from Grinnel College and Northwestern University. His work has appeared in “Punch,” “The National Lampoon,” “Narrativemagazine.com,” several cartoon anthologies edited by Sam Gross and in others assembled by King Features “New Breed.” As a writer, he has published in mcsweeneys.net, “The New York Observer,” and has read work as part of “Trumpet Fiction” at KGB bar in New York. Krimstein lives with his wife and three children in Chicago.  New Yorker work: August 7, 2000 – . Clarkson Potter published a cartoon collection, Kvetch As Kvetch Can, in October of 2010.  Website: http://www.kenkrimstein.com/

Books of Interest: Chris Ware, Bruce Eric Kaplan

Two books by notable stylists, both coming out many months from now, both contribute covers and  cartoons to The New Yorker. 

Monograph by Chris Ware, due October 10th from Rizzoli.

  From the publisher:“Arranged chronologically with all thoughtful critical and contemporary discussion common to the art book genre jettisoned in favor of Mr. Ware’s unchecked anecdotes and unscrupulous personal asides, the author-as-subject has nonetheless tried as clearly and convivially as possible to provide a contrite, companionable guide to an otherwise unnavigable jumble of product spanning his days as a pale magnet for athletic upperclassmen’s’ ire up to his contemporary life as a stay-at-home dad and agoraphobic graphic novelist.”

 

 

…and this offering from Bruce Eric Kaplan, coming out in the Spring of 2018 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

From the publisher:“Two words throw a family’s car trip into utter (and smelly) chaos in this hilarious story of denial from Bruce Eric Kaplan. The Krupkes are having a nice, peaceful Saturday morning drive to the grocery store when: it happens.”

Liza Donnelly Live Draws Coney Island’s Cyclone; An Arno Puzzle Piece Surfaces; A MAD Update

Liza Donnelly Live Draws Coney Island’s Cyclone

Wearing her CBS Resident Cartoonist hat, Liza Donnelly recently visited the Coney Island boardwalk to live draw various sights, including the famous Cyclone, which is celebrating its 90th birthday today. Click here to see all of her CBS Coney Island drawings

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An Arno Puzzle Piece Surfaces

When I completed my biography of Peter Arno in the early months of 2016, there were still a few unsolved pieces of the Arno puzzle.  One of them was the drawing shown here.  While still attending The Hotchkiss School,  Arno was awarded First Prize For Art in a Yale prep school competition.  This drawing appeared in the June 1,  1921 Yale Record, approximately fifteen months  before he began his first and last year at Yale.  It’s an important link piece connecting two phases of his life (Hotchkiss and Yale) when art began to grab hold of him and he began to grab hold of his art. You can see that his drawing ability was already well along: his expertise in the use of light and shadow, his confidence in execution, and of course the presence of the drawing itself on the page.  All the ingredients (save one: sex) in place for the decades of beautiful art to come.  The Nightmare — A Broken String could’ve easily appeared in any early issue of The New Yorker.  Winning the Yale prize was important enough to Arno that he mentioned it in his unpublished memoir, I Reached for the Moon

My thanks to two Yalies:  Don Watson, who found the drawing, and Michael Gerber, who passed it along to me.  Mr. Watson has been working on a comprehensive biography of all the major cartoonists of The Yale Record, and Mr. Gerber is the tirelessly enthusiastic  Publisher of The American Bystander.

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MAD Update

After asking Whither MAD just a few days ago, there’s this news from Tom Richmond’s blog. 

 

 

Resist! #2 Arrives July 4th With An Abundance of New Yorker Contributors

 

The second issue of Resist!, a free “political comics zine of mostly female artists” (a “Man Cave” section is included) edited by Nadja Spiegelman and The New Yorker‘s art editor, Francoise Mouly, will be distributed this coming July 4th in comic book stores and out on the streets by volunteers (approximately 60,000 copies of the first Resist! were distributed this past January).

Go here to find out where you can find a copy near you

According to a press release “the free distribution of Resist! is intended as an Independence Day celebration of the First Amendment, of our diverse country and of our resilience.”

The Editors write in the introductory pages of #2: “These pages contain many individual realities.  They reflect topics as diverse as their contributors: the environment, immigration, racism and the economy.”

Artists represented in this 96 page anthology are from all over the world, but as the Spill’s focus is  primarily New Yorker contributors, I’m  listing the artists whose work has been published there.  In order of appearance:  Roz Chast, Kendra Allenby, Carol Lay, Ana Juan, Anita Kunz, Emily Flake, Amy Kurzweil, Kim Warp, Abigail Gray Swartz, Andrea Arroyo, Liniers, John Cuneo, Tom Toro, Peter Kuper,  Frank Viva, Paul Karasik, Art Spiegelman, R. Sikoryak, Dean Rohrer, Shannon Wheeler, and Daniel Clowes. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information, link here to the Resist! website.

Credits:

Resist! #2 cover by Malika Fravre, a French artist living in London, England.

Across the Great Red States by Kendra Allenby, a cartoonist and storyboard artist living in Brooklyn, NY.  Her work has appeared in The New Yorker

“We’re looking for something that says ‘Death to the Patriarchy’…” by Amy Kurzweil, author of Flying Couches: A Graphic Memoir.  Her work has appeared in The New Yorker.

All art copyrighted by the respective artists.

 

Exhibit of Interest: Liana Finck; R.O. Blechman’s Ink Tank Collection Goes to Washington University in St. Louis

 

Exhibit of Interest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liana Finck‘s first solo exhibit in New York consists of “80 drawings from a series of work posted on Instagram over the last year.” The exhibit runs from July 19 through August 5.  Read all about the exhibit and the Equity Gallery here. 

Liana Finck’s A-Z entry on the Spill:

Liana Finck (Pictured above. Photo: John Madere) Born in 1986. Studied at Cooper Union College, 2004 – 2008. Fulbright Fellowship to Brussels, 2009. Her graphic novel A Bintel Brief was published by Ecco Press in the winter of 2013.   New Yorker work: February 25, 2013 -. Website: www.lianafinck.com/notecards/

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R.O. Blechman’s Ink Tank Collection Goes To Washington University in St. Louis

“A significant number of works and documents” from Mr. Blechman’s Ink Tank has found a permanent home at the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis.  Read all about it here.

Above: a screen grab from Mr. Blechman’s classic Alka Seltzer commercial.

More BlechmanJeet Heer’s interesting 2011 interview from the Comics Journal

 

Seven New Yorker Cartoonists Walk Into a Book Barn; Latest Cartoon Companion Posted; Q & A With Jacob Samuel

Seven New Yorker Cartoonists Walk Into a Book Barn

 

In my hundreds of visits to the always interesting  Rodgers Book Barn in Hillsdale, New York I’d never walked in with six other New Yorker cartoonists…until yesterday.  The Book Barn’s owner, Maureen Rodgers  allowed us to sort of take over the place as we browsed and talked and generally hung out for an hour or so. 

Photo above: from left to right: Bob Eckstein, Sam Gross, Michael Maslin, Robert Leighton, Danny Shanahan, Peter Steiner, and Ken Krimstein

This group then moved on to the classic Martindale Diner, and eventually made its way to the Spill‘s world headquarters. Below is a photo of  Danny Shanahan, Ken Krimstein, and Bob Eckstein looking at a copy of Charles Addams’ Groaning Board. And that’s Sam Gross looking at Peter Arno’s Parade. (photos courtesy of Robert Leighton).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Latest Cartoon Companion Posted

Speaking of cartoons and cartoonists…the latest Cartoon Companion has been posted. The CC boys rate the latest the cartoons in the New Yorker;  this issue features, among others, the Grim Reaper playing hide-and-seek, Orpheus in an elevator, and the big bad wolf using an inhaler.  See it all here.

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A Q&A With Jacob Samuel

From CJNews.com, June 22, 2017 , “Cartoonist Depicts Millennial Misery With Slinky Hell” — this Q&A with Jacob Samuel, who began contributing to The New Yorker in 2014.

Link here to visit Mr. Samuel’s website.

A Small Treasure From the Jack Ziegler Memorial; Cartoon Companion’s Harry Bliss Interview, Pt.2; Looking For Eustace

A Small Treasure From The Jack Ziegler Memorial

Here are a few pages from the fine 10 page pamphlet that was available last Saturday at the memorial for Jack Ziegler. The pamphlet contains a  lovely unpublished cover (seen below) as well as a two-page  “killed” New Yorker spread (not shown) and a number of photographs of Mr. Ziegler, as well as a list of his collected work (shown below). 

 

 

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Cartoon Companion’s Harry Bliss Interview Pt. 2

If you enjoyed Part 1 of the Bliss interview, no doubt you’ll want to read Pt.2…  Read Mr. Bliss’s interview here.

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Looking For Eustace

Here’s something I’ve done maybe just once before: ask Ink Spill visitors if anyone out there has something I’ve looked for for years but have yet to find. This time it’s the miniature (about 3 1/2 inches high, I believe) Eustace Tilley pictured here.  There were 500 manufactured by Sebastian Miniatures back in 1949 (apparently there’s a newer version, from 1981, with a black base.  Only 6 of those were made).  For me, this 1949 Tilley has become the Holy Grail of New Yorker “stuff” (the little bit of information I found about it comes from a book, The Sebastian Miniature Collection by Dr. Glenn Johnson).

If anyone out there has one and would be willing to trade for a couple of my New Yorker original drawings, please contact me.

Show of Interest: Tom Bachtell’s Talk of The Town Illustrations; Whither MAD Magazine?; Roz Chast’s Tiny Shirts

Show of Interest

If you’ve opened up the New Yorker to The Talk of The Town you’ve seen Tom Bachtell’s work.  Now you can see the drawings in person at The Bower Center For the Arts .

Here’s a fine article  about the exhibit and Mr. Bachtell.

Link here to Tom Bachtell’s website.

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Whither MAD Magazine?

Every so often I post something that might seem out of the range of The Spill‘s concerns, but MAD magazine is very much a part of the New Yorker cartoonist universe. Many a New Yorker cartoonist will tell you that MAD was an early comic education and inspiration.  What’s more, a number of New Yorker cartoonists contribute to MAD.  So here’s a thoughtful piece focused on a rumor concerning MAD’s fate.  

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Roz Chast’s Tiny Shirts

This photo appeared on yesterday’s Spill .  It shows Roz Chast (with the great Edward Koren looking on) working on a tiny paper shirt construction at Jack Ziegler’s memorial last Saturday.  As promised, here are the shirts (they made their way out of The Society of Illustrators to The Spill‘s archives via the vest pocket of Danny Shanahan’s jacket).