Saul Steinberg comes to Southwark

The Saul Steinberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS)/DACS, LondonBy Louise Ridley

The first full-scale review of “America’s greatest illustrator” opened at a Southwark gallery last week. 

Saul Steinberg, who died in 1999, is best known for his satirical and urbane drawings, which enriched the covers of The New Yorker magazine for over half a century.

Exhibition on a Europe tour

“His work is so imaginative,” said Kate Knowles, from Dulwich Picture Gallery, “there are so many wildly different covers. Much of his work is comic but there are also serious pieces about the war [Steinberg worked for American military intelligence in World War II.] He was America’s greatest illustrator.”

The Illuminations exhibition of his work is at Dulwich Picture Gallery this winter, as part of its European tour.

Steinberg’s New York connection 

Beloved of Americans, Steinberg’s style was indebted to his detailed knowledge of European fine art, which fused with the cartoon form to create a unique style of illustration.

Romanian-born Steinberg’s entry into the USA, in 1942, was sponsored by The New Yorker, for which he went on to produce over 1,200 drawings.

Many of these, as well as collages, murals and sculptures, feature in Illuminations, which catalogues the career of a man many consider to be a comic genius and a figurehead of modernism.

His work was playfully transformative – in some pictures, fingerprints become mug-shots or landscapes; punctuation marks express fear or exuberance, and the lines of sheet music mutate into violin strings, the grain of a wooden table, or the smile of a cat.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery has showcased the work of illustrators for several years, starting with E.H. Shepherd who illustrated the Winnie the Pooh children’s books.

They ran their first exhibition of purely American art three years ago.

 Knowles told The Platform: “We were nervous about how successful it would be, but visitors have flooded in. Since then we haven’t looked back.”

Illuminations is at Dulwich Picture Gallery until February 15, 2009

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