Steinberg defined drawing as "a way of reasoning on paper".
Steinberg was one of America’s most beloved artists, renowned for the covers and drawings that appeared in The New Yorker for nearly six decades and for the drawings, paintings, prints, collages, and sculptures exhibited internationally in galleries and museums. Steinberg’s art, equally at home on magazine pages and gallery walls, cannot be confined to a single category or movement. He was a modernist without portfolio, constantly crossing boundaries into uncharted visual territory. In View of the World from 9th Avenue, his famous 1976 New Yorker cover, a map delineates not real space but the mental geography of Manhattanites. In other Steinbergian transitions,fingerprints become mug shots or landscapes; graph or ledger paper doubles as the facade of an office building; words, numbers, and punctuation marks come to life as messengers of doubt, fear, or exuberance; sheet music lines glide into violin strings, record grooves, the grain of a wood table, and the smile of a cat.
Saul Steinberg was born in Romania. After studying philosophy at the University of Bucharest, he enrolled in the Politecnico in Milan as an architecture student, graduating in 1940. The precision of architectural drafting taught him the potential of a spare two-dimensional line to describe a complex three-dimensional form. During the 1930s, Steinberg applied this lesson to the cartoons he began publishing in Milan for the twice-weekly humor newspaper Bertoldo. The incisive wit of these images would distinguish much of his art, long after he abandoned the strict cartoon format. By 1940, Steinberg’s drawings were appearing in Life magazine and Harper’s Bazaar. The following year, anti-Jewish racial laws in Fascist Italy forced him to flee. While in Santo Domingo in 1941 awaiting a US visa, he started publishing regularly in The New Yorker.
Steinberg's association with The New Yorker continued for almost sixty years, resulting in nearly 90 covers and more than 1,200 drawings that elevate the language of popular graphics to the realm of fine art. To date, more than eighty solo shows of his art have been mounted in galleries and museums throughout America and Europe, including a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1978) and another at IVAM, the Institute for Modern Art in Valencia, Spain (2002). In 2006, "Steinberg: Illuminations," the first comprehensive look at his career, set off on an eight-stop tour of the US and Europe. A traveling ambassador for American postwar art, Steinberg created one section of the Children's Labyrinth mural at the 1954 Milan Triennial and a panoramic collage entitled The Americans for the US Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. At the Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1966, he collaged the walls withLe Masque.
He worked in a wide range of media, often packing several into a single image. Traditional media abound--ink, pencil, charcoal, crayon, watercolor, oil, and gouache--as do novel devices. He designed rubber stamps of people, birds, horsemen, and crocodiles, imprinting his compositions with their reiterative forms as well as with official-looking but purposely unreadable rubber-stamp seals. In Steinberg’s art, handwriting takes on the character of a drawing medium: he invented an elegant, but again unreadable, calligraphy with which he manufactured "documents"--fake certificates, diplomas, passports, and licenses whose illegibility deprives officialdom of its self-proclaimed authority. Although he primarily drew on paper, Steinberg also turned photographs into drawing surfaces, inking wheels below a shot of a bread loaf and, above it, a horizon dotted with houses and a gas station: a baked car speeding down an American highway. In the early 1950s, he drew on objects or entire rooms and had a photographer document the results, as in the empty bathroom whose tub he filled with a lounging woman.