by Art Chantry:
saul steinberg was such an odd case. he is one of the very few professional cartoonists (aka, “graphic designer”) who managed to make the transition form commercial artist to fully accepted fine artist. his work landed in all of the great museums of the world and graced the pages of the new yorker comics simultaneously. i really can’t think of anybody else who could ever make that claim.
however, that isn’t to say he ever really fully accepted into either sphere of influence. his position sitting on a fence between fine art and commercial art made him a tad bit of a pariah in both worlds. he developed a supremely sour disposition that only enhanced his reputation as an outsider everywhere he went. he was a consummate kvetching new yorker, but also a bit of a crackpot. in other words, he was perfection itself.
this is the photo of steinberg (by charles eames!). it’s not my first choice for an image to place alongside this essay. i tried to find my copy of ‘the inspector’ (a book/compilation of his images. he did several). in it, he printed a drawing of a bunch of his cartoon characters all sitting together at a deli counter chatting among themselves – each drawn in a fantastically different style. there near one guy near the end who is a leather-jacketed gang banger wearing a his gang colors. in bold proud lettering (orbiting a skull) it says, “TACOMA PIMPS”. i LOVE that. that’s the image i wanted to place here, but i couldn’t find my copy of it. so sad. my studio is a mess.
to give further idea of what saul steinburg was like, i’m going to just quote him. i own a copy of a slim volume from 1952 simply called “POSTERS.” inside are profiled (each with one single poster image) profiles of every major international poster artist of the era – each with an brief essay/interview with the artist imaged. the saul steinberg section (with this photo by charles eames) concludes with a brief statement about the artist/client relationship, straight out of the ‘great man’s’ mouth:
“the artist must follow the rules of art only and must not become subservient to trade. trade will gain by it’s contact with art, be it ever so slight, like brushing elbows. we remember the actors toulouse-lautrec painted only because of lautrec. the people who commission posters are simple people, they must be helped, tricked if necessary. but not feared.”
pure unadulterated hubris.
AC:steinberg feels like a godfather to crumb – both stylistically and physically (both his person and his work)….