Illustration, Interludes

Interlude: Concrete Canvas

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

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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.

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Illustration

Ten: Peter Brookes

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I was thrilled to see a profile that I wrote for John L Walters and Simon Esterson at eye magazine in print this week. Last year I visited Peter in his office at The Times and spent a fascinating couple of hours talking to him about his career in illustration and cartooning, below a wall covered in stunning examples of his art and craft. I was lucky enough to have met Peter as I started out in magazine design, at my first proper job, in the art department of Radio Times. By then, he had worked with its brilliant Art Director, David Driver, for a decade, and his approach to problems and his enjoyment of finding creative solutions rubbed off on the whole team. “Happy days!”, said Peter as we talked about that part of his career, and they were. As I left, I noticed a stack of previous cartoons, topped off with his brilliant Michael Gove/Boris Johnson “Et tu, Brute” from a few weeks before, memorably summing up Gove’s disastrous entry into the Tory leadership battle.

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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).

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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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