Illustration, Interludes

Interlude: Lucinda Rogers’ New York project

In a “30 years ago” frame of mind, here’s a brief post in the hope that some readers of Adventures in Commissioning would be interested to see (or support) Lucinda Rogers’ wonderful drawings of New York over the last three decades.

“In my career as an illustrator I’ve worked for many different companies, publications, and organisations including the New Yorker, New York Magazine, the Guardian, Times and Telegraph; the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bloomberg and publishers Penguin, Bloomsbury and Little, Brown. This often means being sent out to draw people, places and things: the practice known as ‘reportage’. But the New York drawings were not commissioned by anyone. They are my own project…”

Beautifully designed by Simon Esterson, there are 8 days to go to fund the last £10,000 needed for the project to become a reality.

Find the Kickstarter page here.

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Illustration, Interludes

Interlude: Anna Haifisch

From Varoom! magazine, 2017

Anna Haifisch’s twitter photo is unnerving. Her head and shoulders sit bust-like among seals in a museum diorama. And reading her latest book is equally unnerving. If you skip ahead to the last answer in the questionnaire, you’ll find out how Anna Haifisch regards the notion of rhythm in drawing. So I’ll try to avoid the word while writing about The Artist, which initially appeared as a weekly strip on vice.com.

A proxy for all struggling creatives, the strip is full of painful situations. Here, the excitement and unfettered creativity experienced at art school runs smack bang into the ugly realities of life, from the failed attempt to shrug off internet browsing – so work can actually be done – to the jealousy that colleagues’ success provokes.

artist

Talking to herself and her peers honestly is what Haifisch’s The Artist does. In it, her bird-like character, thin and pale, travels through the world of commissioning editors and gallerists, never at home, never at ease. Anna herself invokes Steinberg, Tove Jansson and Walt Disney as influences. Occasionally, a title page of a new strip will reference great art – Matisse, Munch, Caspar David Friedrich – as a background for The Artist to appear in, each done in the shaky line that characterises her style.

Haifisch gets a lot of mileage for a straightforward six-panel page formula with limited use of text. “I think repetition is essential for comics. I don’t know how many times I’m drawing the same thing. From panel to panel, making sure the reader can follow my thoughts. You can’t be lazy; there are no shortcuts to repetition.”

She marries her penwork to an unusual colour palette, which partly came about from her work as a screen printer. She spoke to one interviewer of her colour rules: “Don’t use red, yellow, blue and green together unless you want your work to look like an ugly children’s book – get rid of at least one of them (Goodbye green.) / Use the colors that’ll emerge when you mix them (that’s where the purple and pink are coming from) / Pick one colour that bites one of the chosen colours from above and add it to your palette (here and there you’ll find an awful brown in my work).

Haifisch goes for the big themes, too: “The religious or mythological tone is my favourite part of writing The Artist. It’s pure honesty. When I talk about artists as saviours and saints, I really mean it (and every other word, too). It’s me giving a speech. I deeply believe that art is mankind’s last straw before it sinks into brutality and chaos. If we let go of art, the world is lost, and we will all die not soon after.”

It’s funny, acute and smart, but like many great strips (Matt Groening’s Life is Hell, Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot, Ali Fitzgerald’s Hungover Bear) she captures the secret melancholy of a life examined, and what at first appears simple slowly begins to reveal its complexities. The saddest frames are the ones that have no words, where the viewer effectively reads ‘between the lines’ to feel the awkwardness and loneliness The Artist trades in.

A Q&A with Anna Haifisch

Materials: Dip pen, ink

Research: Haikus, BBCs’ The Nation’s Favourite Poems, comic books, friends and art shows.

Process: Going to the studio around eleven to see what’s up. Bohemian style. No steady rhythm. I work pretty much every day and like working late. But I don’t like to call drawing work, because it doesn’t feel like it.

Resistances: Drawing comics can be very boring. There’s too much repetition involved. I like to change it up with drawing other things. Also, I like to do some printmaking from time to time.

Insight: The Artist transformed from a flat character on paper into my mate. We really became friends over the last two years. I care for him a lot. Often enough I feel bad for him for throwing him into all these horrible situations.

Distractions: The internet, emails.

Numbers: Six panels per page, three pages per comic. That’s pretty much the maximum of attention the reader is willing to spend on an online comic.

Rhythm: I find it repulsive when people talk about a ‘rhythm in the line’. I think that’s the worst one can say about a drawing. Then I always picture an artist wearing a poncho and dancing barefoot in the studio. Swinging a wet brush.

*The quotes are taken from an excellent interview with Shawn Starr and Oliver Ristau for the blog Left Me Wanting More. [leftmewantingmore.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/unleashed-in-east-interview-with-anna.html]

There’s also a video here of Anna talking at an It’s Nice That event.

Reprinted by kind permission of Varoom!

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Illustration, Interludes

Interlude: Concrete Canvas

Outdoor Gallery – New York City
By Yoav Litvin
Designed by Steven Mosier
Gingko Press, $39.95, £34.50

outdoornyc1

Written for Eye Magazine, Summer 2015

When a Banksy original turns up (usually prised off a wall) and sells for £300,000, and when today’s newspaper reports on a London opening for the work of the Mexican street-art collective Lapiztola, we know that graffiti has come in from the cold. In October 2013 Banksy even had a month-long ‘residency’ in New York, saying that he was there ‘for the spirit and audacity’.

It is that vibrant culture, an integral part of a city in a league of its own in terms of urban canvas material, that the photographer and writer Yoav Litvin aims to capture in Outdoor Gallery – New York City (Gingko Press, $39.95, £34.50, designed by Steven Mosier).

Litvin succeeds, not only because of the breadth of styles his photographs show but also because of the richness of the stories behind the paint and stencils. These artists include teachers, parents, loners and fashion designers. They are not all young and alienated. A surprising number are women. Some are older than you may imagine, having been stencilling and spraying for more than 30 years.

Their eloquence is impressive, their influences wide-ranging; Rauschenberg and Basquiat may well be expected, Norman Rockwell and the German Expressionist Käthe Kollwitz less so.

The Yok traces the movement back to cave art. Some are inspired by other street artists: the abstract work of Hellbent, for example – powerful geometric shapes which cover industrial walls (top) – is influenced by the Brazilian street artist Zezão.

The book dispenses some useful bits of information along the way: Brooklyn is safer to operate in than Manhattan; the police are often ignorant of the laws regarding public painting, and some large works have increased the value of the property on which they are painted.

There is much striking work here, work that plays with scale or makes pointed social comment. Asked about the materials she uses, Jilly Ballistic, who creates site-specific work using historical photographs in the NYC subway, offers a list that includes: Wit. Humour. Honesty. Ink. X-Acto knife. Hands. Adhesive. History. Consumerism. New York itself.

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An online gallery of the work featured in the book can be seen at yoavlitvin.com. Reprinted by kind permission of Eye.

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Illustration, Interludes

Interlude: Ali Fitzgerald

From Varoom! Winter 2016

Let me introduce you to your new favourite cartoonist: her name is Ali Fitzgerald and she moved to Europe after grad school in Austin, Texas and is now perched high above the Berlin wall in a bungalow, where she draws her regular cartoon column for McSweeney’s, “Hungover Bear and Friends.” It came as a result of winning their annual Column Contest, and is about, well, a hungover bear and his friends (Entitled Fox, Catty Curator et al) confronting the strangeness and quirk of the modern world. As the website puts it, “he’s not an anti-hero, he’s just a bear in a sweater trying to make it all work.”

bear

 

Moving from the home of outlaw country musicians and the South By Southwest festival to the art cauldron of Berlin was not carefully thought through. In fact, as she says, “I basically left Texas with the complete absence of a plan or any German skills.” She also moved from large-scale wall paintings and dioramas to a much smaller canvas: “I was burnt out and disillusioned with the “high art” world and wanted to engage in a more direct way of telling stories. I had to really teach myself how to work on a small-scale – working in a large, gestural way comes much more naturally. But when I moved to Berlin I knew I wanted to learn how to work smaller, and how to communicate ideas visually. So I made a lot of weird/dark comics and drawings that I will probably never show anyone except my therapist.”

For Ali, Berlin actually isn’t so alien. “I think I’m more ‘European’ in temperament (reserved, kind of dark, fatalistic), so Berlin has always felt less foreign in some ways – and despite its rocketing hipness, it’s still essentially a city of outcasts.” Which is, of course, part of the stock-in-trade of cartoonist – an outsider’s eye on the absurd way the human race works. There’s something of Charles Burns in her style, and of Roz Chast in her language, but “Hungover Bear” has a tone and timbre all of its own.

You can see the series so far on Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendancy (mcsweeneys.net/articles/the-twisting-road) and laugh/wince in recognition, at the caustic Ant Rand – “Never forget that the finest nectar comes from egoism, industry and the invisible hand of the Free Market” or be told that “Self-Righteous Hawk thinks that you don’t fully understand the situation in Gaza.”

fox

Reprinted by kind permission of Varoom!

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Interludes

Interlude: Now you see it…

So we were driving home last Sunday, and a couple of workmen were at the entrance to the tiny street that leads into ours. We waved at them, gesturing that we’d park our car in the major street, and wouldn’t make them move their wood and tarpaulin structure. It was similar to those put up by water or gas workers when they’re doing repairs. We didn’t think much about it until Michèle glanced down from one of our windows that overlooks the street. And saw this:

Bambi1 someone finishing off the artwork that they’d sprayed onto the wall. Much excitement followed, especially as it was extremely close to Banksy’s style… a stencil of Bruce Lee, Je Suis Charlie written on his vest, some stars falling from the sky onto his yellow umbrella. There were two guys in Hi-Viz jackets, who did most of the tarpaulin construction, and someone in the middle with silver hair in a Toshiro Mifune kind of top-knot. We didn’t want to disturb them so we took some discreet photos and went down to have a look after they had magicked their temporary hut away.

Bambi2Then we found that it had a title, People Power, and was signed, Bambi, who turns out to be well-known in her own right as a Street Artist.

Bambi

Great, we thought. That dull wall has been transformed with something quirky and interesting… until we arrived back at 11.30 that night from the cinema and someone had painted over it, leaving very little trace of our six-hour art gallery.

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Interludes

Interlude: Jazz. New York in the Roaring Twenties

Jazz. New York in the Roaring Twenties
Robert Nippoldt, Hans-Jürgen Schaal
Hardcover with CD, 8.5 x 13.4 in., 144 pages, £ 34.99

Review from Eye Magazine, Autumn 2013taschenjazz3

Handsome may be the word to describe this book, conceived by German illustrator Robert Nippoldt, a lavish telling of the story of Jazz in New York. Texts about the movers and shakers of the Jazz world at that time – Henderson, Hawkins, Ellington, Whiteman et al – are added to pieces on recording techniques and important locations, to summon up the glories of the Uptown world of Jazz in Manhattan in the era of Gatsby. Perhaps that explains its translation into English now, as it originally appeared in 2007 in Germany. These texts are set against Nippoldt’s slightly crude hatched felt pen-like drawings, all done in black, brown and beige (to quote a Duke Ellington Suite).

Of course, the problem with handsome is that handsome is a lot about the facade. There are dynamic spreads that are seductive as you glance through, but on examination appear a little flimsy. This book, created art-first with a luxurious flatplan giving the drawings primacy over the space, somehow doesn’t quite justify its size – even with the layers of fact boxes detailing recording careers and instruments played. These cute little touches – the use of musicians’ signatures, instrument symbols and small drawings of the main players dropped into the text where their name appears – are nice, but the attention to detail falters when it comes to the type, with a truly nasty italic choice.

For every lovely touch (audience shadows on the front of Armstrong’s stage, reminiscent of The Watchmen), there’s a rather rotoscoped Joe Venuti. For every vivid Manhattan nightscape, there’s a clunkily drawn cornet, not working hard enough for the space it occupies. There are some cool graphic ideas. There’s a nice map of Manhattan showing the locations of the Hot Nitespots, and a brace of spreads with the waveforms of the 20 songs from the attached CD, along with a timing graph (only “Rhapsody In Blue”, commissioned by Paul Whiteman from George Gershwin, is over 3 minutes 20 seconds, and continues by itself onto the second spread).

Tashen

But, looming over all drawings of old musicians, is the great Robert Crumb. Looking back at Crumb you understand what’s missing here – it’s that lunatic passion that inhabits Crumb’s line, that puts fire in the eyes of his portraits. In Nippoldt’s hands they’re  pleasant enough photo-derived graphic representations, but they’re not really alive. And the same goes for the text, a good enough introduction to the subject (albeit not impressive to the jazz scholars that I ran it past), but somewhere between the vivacity of a true comic-book tale and a proper work of scholarship. In the end I didn’t quite know who it was intended for or where it will find its audience. Certainly anyone with more than a passing interest in Jazz would enjoy being reminded of these composers and singers and players, but whether they’d indulge the pages of blown-up record surfaces or annotated drawings of old gramophones, I’m not sure. According to the note at the back, “[Nippoldt’s] screwball book projects put the fear of God into him and his publishers”. I can see why.

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Interludes

Interlude: Linus Magazine

Written for the My Favo(u)rite Magazine Project, organised by Jeremy Leslie and Andrew Losowsky to raise funds to help Bob Newman, US art director and magazine lover, after he had a seizure and collapsed. The brief was: “Choose your favourite single magazine issue, and tell us about it. Any magazine, from any country, from any era.”

Linus Cover

UK
May 1970
Linus Magazine. Bought in Moroni’s, home of magazines, on Old Compton Street, Soho, in May 1970, when I was still buying boy’s comics full of war and derring-do. I loved Peanuts – who didn’t? It had Snoopy on the cover, so it was an obvious purchase. But inside, a world unknown. Put together by Ralph Steadman and Frank Dickens, it ranged across the globe to find extraordinary things, all done in the name of comics. It was racy, it was smart, it was funny. It placed Dickens’ none-more-British detective strip bang up against Guido Crepax’s Nazis and nubiles from Milan. It had Fellini’s sketches! It had The Upside-Down World of Gustave Verbeek, where you read the strip then turned it over for the conclusion of the story, and the drawings miraculously made sense that way too… Coming across Roland Topor probably affected my entire career in magazines. As soon as I saw Brad Holland and Peter Till’s work, I recognised the visual brilliance that I’d so admired in Topor. This was extraordinary stuff, and I never found another issue, but, like the Velvet Underground, its work was done.

Linus-Spreads

Linus-Spreads2

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