Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Review: New York Line By Line-Robinson

In the 60's a German Illustrator called Werner Kruse visited New York for the first time and fell in love with the city. He adopted the pseudonym of Robinson due to his childhood love of an illustrated version of Robinson Crusoe which set him on his path to becoming an artist. Having already turned his skills to Tokyo, Moscow and the Berlin Wall, Robinson set about the momentous task of committing the city to paper, not just it's buildings and monuments, but it's entire inner life. The book is brilliantly presented, a coffee table sized hardcover which is light on text and lets the wonder of Robinson's drawings speak for themselves. In his introduction to the book Matteo Pericoll talks about the deliberateness of each line in the book from the one in our centre of vision, to the ones that peter out towards the edge, and in Robinson's work each line is a thing of beauty. Robinson's view of New York is a work of art, but unlike a lot of modern art it seems honest, subtle, and unpretentious. Despite being drawn in the sixties Robinson's style is sometimes reminiscent of a classic era of American cartooning which I like to call the Jazz Age in the F.Scott Fitzgerald sense, and if I had to compare him to anyone it would be Steinberg, although his line work is altogether bolder and clearer, but they both capture the breath of the city in the same manner. But really Robinson is in a league of his own. Decades before computers made mass details in illustration available at the click of a button Robinson was creating these masses of detail by hand while at the same time displaying an amazing act for simplicity in his depiction of people that still got at the subtlety of their emotions and the fact that they were living and breathing. You may roll your eyes but for me this book is beautiful and escapist, it makes me want to visit New York more than any holiday brochure, and of course it makes me become an idiot nostalgic for New York at that specific time. Robinson most famously developed his 'x-ray view' in which both the insides and the outsides of the buildings were displayed at the same time. He utilises this best with his fantastic drawings of the UN building and the New York Subway. When I was younger I used to own a whole host of cross section books put out by the publisher DK and I absolutely loved them, Robinson set the seeds for this in a stripped down cartoon form and it seems this works equally well. If I had to pick some of my favourite scenes from this book it would be the views of New York at night especially the Chinatown parade in which his heavy use of black is outstanding and brave, and some of the scenes of Greenwich Village in its bohemian heyday. It would also feel a crime not to mention the scenes of people observing art in the Gugenhiem, MOMA, etc. It seems a crime to have to pick a favourite element of the book when it is all visual gold. My housemates joke about my porn being cartoons and comics, but for once they hit the nail on the head, this book is my porn, and I recommend it as top shelf reading for anyone who loves a good line.

One other thing I'm left wondering is whether the person who designed and illustrated the Beastie Boy's album To The 5 Burroughs had seen Robinson's work before he completed the cover, a panoramic fold out of the new york skyline done in black and white relatively simplistic line.

P.S The book is a bit too big to scan most of the images so I suggest you trust me and just buy it, you won't regret it!

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