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.
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.
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.
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
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.