Lines and Colors art blog

Saul Steinberg
I tried really hard not to use this particular image to represent Saul Steinberg’s work. I really did. Everyone’s seen it, and it’s not like there aren’t a multitude of wonderful and memorable Steinberg images to choose from: the clock with all of its numbers replaced with the word “Now”, the days of the week leaping, marching and crawling across the page in approximation of our emotional response to them, the dog making colorful visible screeching on a violin, the venetian blinds that reveal a man and woman behind them to be on different planes of existence, the man standing at the convergence of the visible lines that make up his life (labeled: latitude, longitude, February, 4pm, doubt, duty, etc.), the artist painting by water that reflects the entire scene, including a reflection of her painting of the reflections,… the list goes on.

But this image, Steinberg’s image of the world as seen from 9th Avenue in Manhattan, regardless of how many posters and cards and prints and shower curtains the damn thing appears on, no matter how familiar it is or what a cliché it’s become, this image still grabs me every time. I love it.

It doesn’t just make a wry comment about the Manhattan-centric view of the world that New Yorkers have; it says something about all of us and the way our brains map out the world: the familiar and near vs. the remote and inconsequential. It’s a magical image. But then, many of Steinberg’s images smack of magic, or at least of some remarkably magical view of the world and our place in it.

Saul SteinbergBorn in Romania and educated in Bucharest and Milan (philosophy, literature and architecture), cartoonist and illustrator Saul Steinberg sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1941 while he was waiting for his visa to enter the US. His witty, imaginative, uncannily perceptive and deceptively simple images appeared on the cover and in the pages of The New Yorker for nearly 60 years. Despite his successful gallery and museum exhibitions around the US and across Europe, Steinberg never stopped doing illustrations and cartoons for the magazine. He just loved the printed page and the printed page loved him back.

In a number of his drawings Steinberg made use of one of the conventions of comics: words coming out of people’s mouths, to brilliant effect, substituting lines, shapes, patterns and visual symbols for words, and giving us a graphic impression of speech and verbalization. (Here is a brief article that goes into more detail about that.) He also gave us wonderful graphic impressions of the sounds of different musical instruments. Many of his drawings (most, in fact) show a fascination with “line” itself. What is a line, where does that line go, and where (and how) do you draw the line? If Hirschfeld is “The Line King”, Steinberg is “The Line Mage”.

There is a Saul Steinberg Foundation devoted to the study of his work that includes a small gallery (I love the woman in the bathtub).

For a better overview of his work, there is a nice section about Steinberg, along with many images, on the New Yorker’s Cartoonbank site. Here a link to the covers. (I wrote about the Cartoonbank site in August of last year.)

There is a new book by Joel Smith: “Steinberg at the New Yorker”.



6 responses to “Saul Steinberg”

  1. un consejo antes de dormir

    Saul Steinberg, literatura ergódica y la casa de las hojas: dos libros por localizar y un concepto a tener claro….

  2. Deborah Boland Avatar
    Deborah Boland

    I recently saw a poster of what I thought was Steinberg’s Dancing Couple. This poster was announcing his exhibition at the Kensington Galleries in either 1975 or 1977. The poster didn’t have the table in it and the ‘carpet’ was different. Also, the ladies nose was a rectangle. It had some a stamp on it but it was so small I could not read it. It had ST over 1975 in pencil. Did Steinberg ‘personalize’ posters at his exhibitions?

  3. I saw one of your exhibits on a class fieldtrip at the Columbus Museum of Art and the teacher couldn’t pull me away! I kept the pamphlet? through adulthood until I lost everything I owned. I recently went to an acquaintence’s after she had moved and left items for me to look through. I bought your New Yorker poster and had no idea it was you since it was so late and dark. At first glance, I just loved it! The next day, my friend’s son asked about it and as we were looking, “Steinberg” caught my eye and I yelled “That’s Saul Steinberg! I can’t believe I didn’t notice!”, though that was the first time I really got to look at it in light. I just wanted to thank you for inspiration and entertainment. I will now pursue more of your work. Gina Darlington

  4. I have been looking for Steinberg’s Cube drawings (mostly pen and ink, a few with color) I want to do a study and write an article on them.
    Neither the Saul Steinberg Foundation nor the New Yorker Cartoon sales have been able to help me. I have bought a copy of Labarynth as it was said to contain copies of the cube cartoons, but they have very few.
    Can you advise me?
    Andrea Sender
    (a.k.a. Sister benedicta, O.S.H.

  5. […] fluid and playful character of her lines, in the tradition of line wizards like Al Hirschfeld and Saul Steinberg, gives her images an additional level of visual interest beyond their immediate […]

  6. […] new watercolor drawing, View of the World from Bedford Avenue (above, top with detail), a homage to Saul Steinberg’s iconic New Yorker cover in which he framed the New York centric view (and by extension, the way we […]