Word-Object Drawings

Like thought balloons, key stylistic devices entered or matured in the 1960s. Early in the decade, just as disparate post-Pop and Conceptual artists such as Ed Ruscha, Lawrence Weiner, Mel Bochner, Barbara Kruger, and Jenny Holzer began to make words the primary subject of their imagery, Steinberg began his word-object drawings. Unlike Conceptualists, however, this self-professed “writer who draws” transformed words and phrases into visual equivalents of their meanings. Some of the early examples look like comic book emanata writ large; most of them constitute a lexicon of modern anxieties.

<em>Tantrum</em>, from a Word portfolio, <em>The New Yorker</em>, August 20, 1960
Tantrum, from a Word portfolio, The New Yorker, August 20, 1960
<em>Yes, No</em>, drawing in <em>The New Yorker</em>, May 28, 1960
Yes, No, drawing in The New Yorker, May 28, 1960
<em>Eat</em>, from a Word portfolio, <em>The New Yorker</em>, August 20, 1960
Eat, from a Word portfolio, The New Yorker, August 20, 1960
<em>Help!</em> from a Word portfolio, <em>The New Yorker</em>, August 20, 1960
Help! from a Word portfolio, The New Yorker, August 20, 1960
Original drawing for <em>Who Are They</em>, in a Word portfolio, <em>The New Yorker</em>, November 8, 1969. Ink on paper, 14 ½ x 23 ¼ in. Collection of Carol and Douglas Cohen
Original drawing for Who Are They, in a Word portfolio, The New Yorker, November 8, 1969. Ink on paper, 14 ½ x 23 ¼ in. Collection of Carol and Douglas Cohen
<em>Yes, But</em>, from a Word portfolio, <em>The New Yorker</em>, November 8, 1969
Yes, But, from a Word portfolio, The New Yorker, November 8, 1969
<em>Don’t</em>, from a Word portfolio, <em>The New Yorker</em>, November 8, 1969
Don’t, from a Word portfolio, The New Yorker, November 8, 1969
<em>Not Yet</em>, 1965-66. Ink, colored pencil, gouache, watercolor, and rubber stamp on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. The Art Institute of Chicago; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation
Not Yet, 1965-66. Ink, colored pencil, gouache, watercolor, and rubber stamp on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. The Art Institute of Chicago; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation
<em>Exit Street</em>, 1970. Colored pencil, pencil, and ink on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. Private collection
Exit Street, 1970. Colored pencil, pencil, and ink on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. Private collection
Cover of <em>The New Yorker</em>, March 7, 1970
Cover of The New Yorker, March 7, 1970
Original drawing for the cover of <em>The New Yorker</em>, July 31, 1971. Ink, marker pens, ballpoint pen, pencil, crayon, goauche, watercolor, and collage on paper, 22 ¾ x 14 in. The Art Institute of Chicago; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation
Original drawing for the cover of The New Yorker, July 31, 1971. Ink, marker pens, ballpoint pen, pencil, crayon, goauche, watercolor, and collage on paper, 22 ¾ x 14 in. The Art Institute of Chicago; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation
<em>Guilty</em>, 1972. Ink and colored pencil on paper, 14 1/8 x 22 ½ in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation
Guilty, 1972. Ink and colored pencil on paper, 14 1/8 x 22 ½ in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation
<em>Broadway</em>, 1986. Ink, pencil, and collage on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation. Originally published in <em>The New Yorker</em>, October 27, 1986
Broadway, 1986. Ink, pencil, and collage on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation. Originally published in The New Yorker, October 27, 1986

Others visualize the literal meaning of the word—the month of March marches off into the distance, while the attenuated ETC recessively repeats itself.

<em>February-March</em>, 1968. Ink, crayon, pencil, and watercolor on paper, 21 ½ x 14 ½ in. Centre Pompidou, Paris; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
February-March, 1968. Ink, crayon, pencil, and watercolor on paper, 21 ½ x 14 ½ in. Centre Pompidou, Paris; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
<em>Untitled</em>, 1968. Ink, pencil, and crayon on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation
Untitled, 1968. Ink, pencil, and crayon on paper, 14 ½ x 23 in. The Saul Steinberg Foundation

Colors, used as the cover of the October 21, 1972 New Yorker, may be Steinberg’s artful poke at Jasper Johns’s 1959 False Start and related works. Over a gesturally painted background, Johns stenciled color names in the wrong colors. In the Steinberg, the color words alone comprise the composition, each one misidentified in bold billboard-style letters, perhaps to signal the duplicitous address of advertising promotions.

Original drawing for <em>The New Yorker</em> cover, October 21, 1972. <em>Colors</em>, 1971. Cut paper collage with watercolor, oil, colored pencil, colored paper, and rubber stamp on paper, 29 ¼ x 21 ¾ in. Centre Pompidou, Paris; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
Original drawing for The New Yorker cover, October 21, 1972. Colors, 1971. Cut paper collage with watercolor, oil, colored pencil, colored paper, and rubber stamp on paper, 29 ¼ x 21 ¾ in. Centre Pompidou, Paris; Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.

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