♢ EDITORIAL by Sal McIntyre, New York ♢
Saul Steinberg is an artist who stands out monumentally beyond others, his unendingly unique style and vision setting him apart and occupying a space in the world of art that defies description. Probably most infamous for his prolific work as a trailblazing cartoonist for The New Yorker, his distinctive voice carries many eclectic expressions, his work extending far outside any of the usual genres or definitions. Even he was aware of his especially individualized perspective: “I don’t quite belong to the art, cartoon or magazine world, so the art world doesn’t quite know where to place me.” Though a career filled with over 80 one-man shows worldwide is a testament to his enduring appeal.
Weightlessly bridging the divide between high art and low art, his ingenious, charming and often humorous images seem to have invented a world all their own, where they travel straight from spark to realisation before we are even aware of what we are looking at. Yet for all their lightness and charm, they also contain an inescapable gravity, perhaps intrinsic in the clear sincerity with which he approached each new idea, infusing his lines with great sophistication. It is evident that he unwaveringly followed his own creative promptings, no matter how seemingly far-fetched, resulting in a piercing bright light in the history of modern art and a body of work that is diverse, unpretentious, conceptually rich and blissfully imaginative.
This signed 1971 stone lithograph Maeght - Zurich is a prime example— the piece seems almost a diagram of some fabricated machinery, clear delineated instructions on how to navigate this semi-musical instrument, or at the very least a glimpse of the inner workings of the artist’s mind.
Persian Rug is simply inarguable, and complexly brilliant, a true soliloquy that could only have been plumbed from the depths by way of a wholly unedited creative foray. This 1977 piece is from a limited edition print run for an exhibition of his work held at the legendary Pace Gallery at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio.
In Dancing Couple he seamlessly integrates a handful of different styles into one surprising image, feeling simultaneously entertaining and introspective. Perhaps his images are funny because they somehow hit the mark perfectly, giving voice succinctly to odd human tendencies and behaviors with which we can all relate.
Spoleto Festival is in typical Steinberg form, where he is being experimental with noses. This piece is both deeply beautiful and full of wit, another first edition stone lithograph print from the 1969 Spoleto summer music and opera festival held annually in Italy, the “Festival of the Two Worlds.”
This deceptively simple Untitled stone lithograph becomes enlightening on close inspection, and Le Couple, a signed print from 1971 inspires so many resonances that it is difficult to put them into words. What is possible however, is to recognize the endlessly fresh and rich spirit through which Steinberg communicates, presenting work after work that ring as true today as when he first made them.
In Taxi, another signed stone lithograph, we see that he seems really just to be investigating things carefully that he is observing in the world around him, however the results are certainly a delightful concoction emanating straight from his own personal viewpoint.
More careful diagrams can be searched in a collection of radiant illustrations from the 1983 book All Except You, an avant-garde collaboration with French literary figure Roland Barthes. Each illustration was individually stone lithograph printed on luxurious Arches vellum in an edition of only 100; or the whole book itself is available as a unit containing all 9 loose prints, and is signed and numbered by Steinberg.
And without a doubt, his work in the Derriere le Miroir publication reveals epiphany after epiphany, a never-ending stream of inspired microdrama, prevalent in these rare-find articulations of casual brilliance.