Graph & Music Paper

Around 1950, Steinberg introduced graph paper and sheet music paper as transformative supports for his drawing. The familiar lines of sheet music became an apt background for performing musicians.

<em>Untitled</em>, c. 1950-52. Ink and pencil on sheet music paper, 19 1/8 x 14 1/8 in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
Untitled, c. 1950-52. Ink and pencil on sheet music paper, 19 1/8 x 14 1/8 in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation.

Two decades on, restrictions of subject are lifted and the paper becomes a medium itself, whether for musical subjects, still lifes, or more abstract themes. In these works, the staff lines, alone or with added penwork, give body to people and objects, or serve as shelves for store-bought mailing labels.

Cover of <em>The New Yorker</em>, May 6, 1967.
Cover of The New Yorker, May 6, 1967.
<em>Untitled</em>, 1966. Ink on sheet music paper, 18 x 12 in. Yale University Art Gallery; Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection. Originally published in <em>The New Yorker</em>, May 6, 1967.
Untitled, 1966. Ink on sheet music paper, 18 x 12 in. Yale University Art Gallery; Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection. Originally published in The New Yorker, May 6, 1967.
<em>Untitled (For Charles)</em>, 1967. Ink and rubber stamp on sheet music paper, 19 x 12 ½ in. Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Bequest of Charles Blitzer.
Untitled (For Charles), 1967. Ink and rubber stamp on sheet music paper, 19 x 12 ½ in. Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Bequest of Charles Blitzer.
<em>Untitled</em>, 1971. Ink with crayon and colored pencil on sheet music paper, 14 ¼ x 20 1/8 in. The Art Institute of Chicago; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
Untitled, 1971. Ink with crayon and colored pencil on sheet music paper, 14 ¼ x 20 1/8 in. The Art Institute of Chicago; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
<em>Untitled</em>, 1968. Labels, pencil, and ink on sheet music paper, 19 x 14 1/8 in. Private collection.
Untitled, 1968. Labels, pencil, and ink on sheet music paper, 19 x 14 1/8 in. Private collection.

Steinberg also welcomed the pictorial potential of the gridded lines in graph and ledger paper—for a charming scatter of birds or protection against an invasion of flies.

<em>Untitled</em>, 1951. Ink on graph paper, 11 x 16 ½ in. Collection of Daniela Roman.
Untitled, 1951. Ink on graph paper, 11 x 16 ½ in. Collection of Daniela Roman.
<em>Untitled (Flyscreen)</em>, c. 1950. Ink on graph paper, 11 x 8 ½ in. Saul Steinberg Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Untitled (Flyscreen), c. 1950. Ink on graph paper, 11 x 8 ½ in. Saul Steinberg Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

More critically, graph paper became a vehicle for his acerbic commentaries on the unrelieved tedium of postwar curtain-wall architecture, in his view, an architecture of the organization man in a culture of conformity. A plain sheet of gridded paper, sometimes combined with music paper, surrounded by inked renderings of streets and older buildings—this is all Steinberg needed to visualize the overscaled intrusion of such architecture on the human environment.23

<em>Untitled</em>, 1950. Ink and graph paper, 12 x 9 in. Published in Steinberg, <em>The Passport</em>, 1954.
Untitled, 1950. Ink and graph paper, 12 x 9 in. Published in Steinberg, The Passport, 1954.
<em>Graph Paper Architecture</em>, 1954. Ink and collage on paper, 14 ½ x 11 ½ in. Collection of Leon and Michaela Constantiner, New York.
Graph Paper Architecture, 1954. Ink and collage on paper, 14 ½ x 11 ½ in. Collection of Leon and Michaela Constantiner, New York.
<em>Park Avenue Collage</em>, 1954. Ink and sheet music and graph papers, 22 7/8 x 14 3/8 in. Centre Pompidou, Paris; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
Park Avenue Collage, 1954. Ink and sheet music and graph papers, 22 7/8 x 14 3/8 in. Centre Pompidou, Paris; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.

He even drew gridded lines in emulation of graph paper for a 1960 New Yorker cover, where the only redeeming quality of the Seagram’s-UN-like building is its capacity to reflect the Art Deco spire of the Chrysler Building.

Cover of <em>The New Yorker</em>, April 2, 1960.
Cover of The New Yorker, April 2, 1960.

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