written and illustrated by Leanne Shapton
NYRoB Art Newsletter no. 19

A dispatch from our Art Editor on the art and illustrations in the Review’s April 18 issue.

This art newsletter comes from my kitchen island, where I paused to paint some tulip studies before picking my daughter up from the bus stop. In March and April, on the east coast at least, there always seems to be a proliferation of flame-red and orange tulips. I remember buying them in the 1990s when I realized I could afford cut flowers. In the early 2000s, when I lived in Toronto, I brought tulips to a close friend, the writer Adam Gilders, when he was sick; when he died, they became inextricably linked to my memories of him, and I now buy them annually as a memorial.

Our Spring Books Issue, like the season itself, is stuffed with the cruel and unusual. I asked the Berliner Henning Wagenbreth to illustrate our cover with his interpretation of the season. As he told me in an interview, “Spring was when we would take the family bicycles out of the basement and get them ready for rides into nature,” so he gave us a diligent rider tuning up their bicycle, in his inimitable constructivist style. His bright pink, blossom- and pollen-spotted cover felt exactly right for New York’s mercurial, overcast-then-bright skies.

Inside, Laura Marsh reviewed Adelle Waldman’s new novel, Help Wanted, which is drawn from Waldman’s experiences working for minimum wage at a big-box store. I asked the Barcelona-based Ciara Quilty-Harper for a portrait of Waldman, and she placed her in a warehouse setting. Nathaniel Rich reviewed two books about unidentified flying objects, and the graphic designer Paul Sahre, whom I know to be interested in the subject, first gave us a sketch of a flying saucer at the Last Supper. This seemed too glib, so he drafted a moodier landscape, hoping the bright colors would keep it “out of X-Files land.”

Leah Goren, from southern California, drew the Iranian-American poet Kaveh Akbar in a collegiate setting for Francine Prose’s review of his first novel. Though Masha Krasnova-Shabaeva usually does more conceptual illustrations for us, this issue I asked her for a portrait to go with Daisy Hildyard’s review of In Ascension, by Martin MacInnes. The novel felt akin to Krasnova-Shabaeva’s work: a little science-fiction, some fantastic elements, with unusual proportions and odd perspectives. She gave us a pink MacInnes, seemingly floating in space, with Earth in the background.

I loved Brenda Wineapple’s review of A Strange Life: Selected Essays of Louisa May Alcott, which describes Alcott’s struggles as a working writer. Because of her facility with pastoral subjects, I thought that the English artist Maya Chessman would be right to ask for a likeness, and she delivered Alcott at “Fruitlands,” the farm where, in the words of the poet and academic Liz Rosenberg, her “prescient and intelligent vegetarian pre-hippie” father, Bronson, moved the family in 1843. 

I asked Lorenzo Gritti for a portrait of Norman Mailer for Andrew Delbanco’s review of Mailer’s selected letters. He sent in four sketches of a young Mailer writing letters while serving in the army. We thought that the dark-haired Mailer was not quite recognizable, so Gritti aged him—adding gray hair and a few lines to his face—which gave the image a dimension of time that worked well with the essay. 

We decided that Jerome Groopman’s moving review of The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight, by Andrew Leland, called for a piece of fine art. I looked at photography taken through fractured lenses and paintings about perception, then found A Dark Room, a 2021 painting by the Tennessee-based artist Shannon Cartier Lucy. We thought it captured Groopman’s focus on Leland’s descriptions of the loss, rather than lack, of sight.

For Peter C. Baker’s review of The Wall by Marlen Haushofer, I asked Tatjana Prenzel, who has, in the last two years, given us depictions of Louisa Hall and Annie Ernaux. She drew Haushofer deep in the forest that is the book’s setting, and included the dog who is one of the novel’s protagonist’s few companions.

I painted a watercolor portrait of Colson Whitehead for Colin Grant’s review of Crook Manifesto, and my fellow New Yorker Grant Shaffer contributed the series art for the issue, inky abstracted spots he calls Liquid Strangers.

Shaffer is currently selling prints at Fish’s Eddy of New York City scenes he has overheard. Shannon Cartier Lucy’s work can be seen at Gallery Hussenot in Paris until April 20.

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