Saul Steinberg

By | Sunday, August 26, 2007 1 comment
I went to the Cincinnati Art Museum this afternoon to look at an exhibit they currently have on Saul Steinberg. He was perhaps best known as one of the lauded cartoonists for The New Yorker and he also created 85 of their covers.

Before going, I wasn't terribly familiar with Steinberg's work. But the collection was intelligently organized in a chronological fashion. I didn't think to count the number of individual pieces, but it was seemed quite representative of his entire career ranging from sketches to political cartoons to personal gifts, and even included one of his murals that used to hang in the Terrence Plaza Hotel.

What struck me about his work overall was that he did some incredible linework. His figures are largely abstract, at least to some degree, but he had a great economy of line so that one stroke might represent a woman's arm, part of her gown, the next gentleman's tuxedo tails, and his partner's sleeve. Alternatively, a whole human figure might be indicated by a face (not a whole head, mind you, just the face) and a quick stroke to suggest a torso.

He also did a fair amount of work with rubber stamps, largely as a means of socio-political statements. I found those works to be less interesting visually, although they generally had a more powerful and/or profound message.

As with any piece of art, one of the things I very much enjoyed was being able to look at the work up close and inspect how it was created. For example, in The New Yorker cover pictured here, the "DO" was actually created on a separate piece of illustration board and pasted onto the original. (Presumably to conceal an error or some kind.) In many of Steinberg's piece -- as well as much comic book art -- the application of ink intrigues me in particular. What is often printed as large swaths of black in reality are varying shades of dark gray generated from changes in how much ink may have been applied to any given spot and/or with what instrument. It's also possible, often, to see the original pencil marks underneath to see how the artist envisioned the work initially before applying ink.

I spent around an hour and a half at the Steinberg exhibit by itself. The Cincinnati Art Museum has many great works in their permanent collection and, as it's always free admission, one can hardly argue that it's not worth seeing. But the Steinberg collection in particular was fascinating and at the same low price of admission, it would be nearly impossible to NOT recommend seeing this if you're anywhere in the Cincinnati area.
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