The Economist calls New York Drawings, "enlightening"

“A twilight art” / The Economist / E.H. / December 20, 2012

ADRIAN TOMINE and Peter Campbell are not household names. But there is a good chance, if you have been in a newsagent’s over the past ten or 20 years, that you have seen their artwork or bought something they have done. Both illustrators, Mr Tomine creates covers for the New Yorker and Campbell (who died in 2011) drew the covers for the London Review of Books (LRB). Their trade is, in a sense, a twilight art: their work is seen by many thousands of subscribers and ordinary punters, but it is also ephemeral, appearing on magazines that can be thrown away.

Now, two books collect their work in a more permanent format—Mr Tomine’s in “New York Drawings” and Campbell’s in “Artwork”—and showcase them alongside their rough sketches and early drafts. The results are enlightening. “New York Drawings” gathers together everything Mr Tomine has created for the New Yorker over the past decade. It includes his early illustrations for books reviews and film reviews (“Mulholland Drive”, “8 Mile” and “Underworld”) inside the magazine, and all his covers, starting with his first which pictures two people reading the same book in different subway carriages.

Mr Tomine, who originally comes from California, is adept at drawing snapshots of city life in his adopted and adored New York. His style combines bold pen outlines with clean computer-generated colours filling them in. In his illustrations, Edward Hopper-like situations—of dogs under disused railway bridges, or people on a street corner—take on a wry edge. One illustration, of someone who lives next to an independent bookshop signing for a delivery from a large online book-retailer, entitled “Read-handed”, captures perfectly the mixture of guilt and defiance on the resident’s face. In Mr Tomine’s notes at the back of the publication, he repeats a rumour that one such online retailer bought several framed prints of this cover to hang in its boardrooms.

“Artwork” is more elegiac in mood; published after Campbell’s death, it includes lengthy introductions by Bill Manhire, a poet who knew Mr Campbell from their native New Zealand and Jeremy Harding, a writer and fellow LRB contributor. Describing Campbell’s 30-year career as art director, contributor (writing more than 300 articles) and, from 1993, cover artist of the LRB, they combine personal reminiscences with intricate details, such as about the particular font Campbell, a book designer as well as an illustrator, most liked to use.

As with “New York Drawings”, “Artwork” is best at tracing the transition between early drawings and their finished result on the magazine’s cover. Campbell’s watercolour drawings—of “papers, fruit, typewriters, flowers in a porcelain jug”, as Mr Harding puts it—might seem, on first glance, rather too delicate to be on the cover of a magazine. But, under the LRB masthead and surrounded by contributor’s names, his confident strokes and whimsical glimpses of London life hold their own. Like Mr Tomine, Campbell’s figures often wait at railway stations or read in bed, both illustrators creating bookish worlds designed to appeal to the publications’ ideal readers. It is a joy to see such covers collected together for the first time.

However, in both publications not enough is said by the artists themselves: “Artwork” includes an excerpt at the back from one of Campbell’s pieces for the LRB about his love of magnifying glasses, while Mr Tomine begins “New York Drawings” with a witty comic-strip about acting awkwardly at a New Yorker party. But neither publication gives much space for Mr Tomine or Campbell to talk about their art or their process of production.

This is a shame. As Mr Tomine has shown elsewhere, he writes eloquently about how he goes about creating a cover. The excerpt from Campbell called out for more from him (his excellent essays are instead collected in a volume entitled “At…”). But perhaps this is what the artists wanted—in contrast to the publications they normally work for, both these books let their work stand out on its own, with few words attached.

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