First off, I have to disagree, everyone does not love New York. Everyone does not love a cramped city with a high living cost, no matter how much culture and style we have. But in this book from teNeues publishers, eighty five artists celebrate New York life with an illustration. The first, by Laura Amiss, is more on the technical side, with the city skyline clearly defined, yet there’s nothing memorable about it. Similarly, the R. Nichols illustration is just blocks of color, with no background, but it has an edge; a skinny woman yells at the moving man as he deftly carries her furniture into her apartment. The only thing missing is a tiny dog!
I’ve come to judge illustration of New York City not by the quality or imagery, but by the subject matter. Brenna Thummler shows New York City as a street full of cabs, with a woman trying to hail one. While the quality is good, there’s nothing unique or ironic about it. The illustration isn’t even a realistic one; in real life, she’d be in a war to get the cab away from other potential fares. There are lessons to be learned from this book with regard to quality, like the Stephen Wiltshire drawing of the Guggenheim. While the perspective is fine, it doesn’t have anything original about it, and it isn’t well drawn. Topher MacDonald, on the other hand, draws the Strand Bookstore with less technical proficiency, yet he does a better job. Why? Because the Strand Bookstore is anything but perfect. It’s an old building on a dirty corner, and the red awning and banner stick out like a sore thumb. MacDonald’s drawing captures the imperfect essence perfectly.
When it comes to the food, most of the artwork doesn’t capture anything distinctly iconic about New York. Kendyll Hillegas’ bagels and Bella Pilar’s coffee cup are just that; a bagel and a coffee cup, nothing more. It’s the same thing with Rebecca Clarke’s table, just food and nothing more. And despite the stereotype, oysters are NOT a New York City staple, most New Yorkers can’t afford them. Emma Block’s hot dog wagon works better, with more attention to detail, but could benefit from a background.
New York City is not a boring place to be – on the contrary it’s vibrant, colorful, dirty, grimy, hostile, and friendly at the same time, and maybe that’s why we like it so much. Shari Blaukopf’s watercolor of Pearl Paint, now closed, captures the color of the old façade, but not the mood. The old store on Canal Street may have been painted red and white, but it was also faded and rusty, and the street was dirty, crowded, and noisy. Her painting of the store, however, reminds me of a deserted Edward Hopper cityscape. Her work is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s in a watercolor style that I see all the time. For all I know, the Pearl Paint in her illustration could be on Main Street in Mayberry.
There are some illustrations here that do in fact capture the city’s essence, like Anne Higgie’s great piece on Chinatown. She makes a tiny street look rain-drenched and grimy, and the facades are crowded with signs. Though the signs are colorful, the street still looks gray. It is both beautiful and hideous at the same time.
I think there’s a certain quality that’s expected when you illustrate New York City. It doesn’t have to be technically perfect or slick, nor does it have to be attractive, but it does have to capture the mood. I recently reviewed Paris, Paris! Which was illustrated by Ronald Searle, and the illustrations were perfect because they capture the nook & cranny aspect of an old city. Now in the case of Everyone Loves New York, I expected to experience the city’s towering office blocks, crowded streets, empty side streets, the earth tones of the West Village, the majestic buildings of Harlem, and the colors of the people, just like we got with the photo essay Humans of New York.
Everyone Loves New York could have been an update of M. Sasek’s This Is New York, one in which the old neighborhoods are gentrified, the men aren’t wearing neckties and raincoats, and there are more children around. Perhaps that’s why I find the illustrations lacking in this book, because they don’t do enough to show the city’s people. The famous New Yorker covers, for instance, do a lot more for the city’s subject matter, with their fashion-obsessed women, tiny dogs, the fedora craze, the in-shape Citybike commuter watching the more affluent (and heavy) gym-goers on their exercise bikes. They give us an ironic and comic view of the city without sacrificing quality. New Yorker covers are an example of the type of illustration we could be getting from Everyone Loves New York.
I’m not sure if the title of this book is appropriate. The guy sitting next to me said “that’s a lie, when I do conferences the folks from the south can’t wait to leave.” Pointing to Mark Ulriksen’s illustration, he said “now that’s the quintessential New York,” referring to the woman bringing the huge dog in the elevator. I agree. Tiny dogs on long leashes are a pain on the street, and big dogs are a pain indoors. It makes me want to leave the city and never return!