Saul Steinberg

What Steinberg saw, with childlike curiosity, is what most of us miss: the strange in the familiar. His sharp reductive lines do not so much record the visual field through which he travelled as playfully dissect it, revealing a state of mind at once puzzled and entranced. His drawing captures that first impression, the process of seeing as if for the first time.

A multitude of small details – lettering, car shapes, shop fronts, fashion accessories – present themselves in absurd juxtapositions; abstract lines repose on pieces of modish furniture, cubist forms jostle with ribbons of cursive script and cartoon characters roam through elaborate rococo doodles. The eye moves through crisp city vistas into fields of impossible geography.

Roads are everywhere, from the early war reporting in Europe to the avenues of Manhattan and the freeways of America – the fleeting parade of life in the new world seen by this restless exile from the old world. Alert to the lyrical potential of Klee’s walking lines and Hogarth’s satirical scenes, Steinberg produced images that freely blend childish awe with wistful incredulity, and reveal with a light touch the darkest of human comedies.

Saul Steinberg:illuminations, Dulwich Picture Gallery, to 15 february 2009