Photo by Evelyn Hofer, 1978

"Saul Steinberg (1914-1999) is not easy to categorize within the world of art. His work resides somewhere between cartoons and art galleries, and somewhere between the written word and the picture. In fact, Steinberg considered himself a writer who happened to draw. He enjoyed the visual pun, and he made his line work pass through many dimensions.

Saul Steinberg, the son of a book binder, was born in Râmnicu Sărat, Romania. He went to the University of Bucharest, where he studied philosophy for a year. He then moved to Italy to study architecture in Milan, and graduated from the Politecnico di Milano in 1940. Because of anti-Semitic laws, Steinberg fled Italy before World War II. His departure from Italy was difficult; first he went to Portugal and was deported back to Italy. Next he traveled to the Dominican Republic, and then finally to the United States.

It's interesting to note that Steinberg was able to leave Italy in part because he forged a part of his passport. The visual language of passports, proclamations, and bureaucracy in general — along with the texture of elegantly indecipherable calligraphy — remained a major element of his art.

For many years, Steinberg contributed to the New Yorker magazine. His love of the visual pun was coupled with an interest in American mythology and symbolism. Above, Unemployment is skewered by Semantics, and Inflation is skewered by Statistics.

Late in life, Steinberg began working with oils on paper, painting great vistas over which he rubber-stamped animals, figures and structures."

Saul Steinberg defined drawing as "a way of reasoning on paper," and he remained committed to the act of drawing. Throughout his long career, he used drawing to think about the semantics of art, reconfiguring stylistic signs into a new language suited to the fabricated temper of modern life.... (
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First Collected by

Nikhil Thakur


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