Sunday, January 27, 2013

More bonds

Last night I dreamed I was having a lively discussion with someone about the merits of the graphic work of Saul Steinberg. Dad was much intrigued by Steinberg’s fine covers for The New Yorker and I rather think his own line drawings were at times influenced by him, though not quite as much as they followed the prompts of Daumier’s gens de justice series, with a dash of Doré and even Goya thrown in for good measure. Certainly there were large-format, lavishly-illustrated books about Steinberg at 18 Denham Place, and I remember as a child poring over them with real fascination, and trying my best to imitate his style. Only now do I realize that Steinberg must have played an important part in steering me towards art in the first place, thanks above all to our wonderful father, and maybe also latterly towards old bond certificates. For in the frigid light of this morning it struck me with sudden force that Steinberg must have studied them closely. Throughout The Passport (1954) for example, he paraphrased portions of their stylistic vocabulary with rare wit, capturing that overinflated Neronian pomposity and plutocratic flamboyance in controlled fits of high Modernist, steel-nibbed satire. There is the neurotically minuscule “small print,” the showy signatures, the cartouches, sunburst striations, the trophies, the armorial bearings, the banner-swoop arabesques, and the flutter of all those intricate marginalia. The bonds were not his only source, however, for Steinberg threw in the posturing habits of more recent forms of official documentation. This portion of his restless mindscape embraced the certified public accountant, the university registrar, the consular section, and rubber-stamp customs and excise officials with every bit of the enthusiasm with which he took aim at the banks and brokers responsible for pumping up the Gilded Age bond market. Still, this is a source and, now, an essentially Edwardian residue, that I never recognized before this morning, thanks to that strange dream. Visual memory is evanescent, but apparently jogged powerfully by sleep. Come to think of it, there is something tangibly Edwardian about that too.

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