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Finger Pointing: The Future and Fictional Past of New Yorker iPhone Art

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ThurbersiPhone-Pollux-Pmorris-July 2009.png

Pollux writes:

If you’re an art collector on the go, Christie’s iPhone application allows you to browse over their auctions in various categories. Christie’s may also soon be adding a live-bidding functionality to this iPhone app, according to this article. So if you’ve got an iPhone and a taste for fine art, then your needs will soon be met.

But what if you’re an artist on the go? Back in May, Jorge Colombo showed us the possibilities of the iPhone’s Brushes app and how it could be used to create a new form of digital art.

Colombo didn’t invent the format, but certainly provided a stimulus to those who want to create fine art but don’t want to be lugging easels or sketchpads around. The iPhone Art Flickr group now has more than 5,000 individual art pieces. The New Yorker, keeping its sharp ears close to the ground, has now created a regular blog featuring Colombo’s iPhone-generated finger paintings, which include images of the Apollo Theatre, limo drivers, storefronts, and a musical performance.

This art isn’t just viewable on an iPhone or only online. The Flickr artists are working on the challenges of printing out their artwork. And, if you’d like to buy one of Jorge Colombo’s iPhone prints, you can find them for sale at Jen Bekman’s gallery.

If only the iPhone had been around fifty years ago! I’ve been working on a time machine whose main function will simply be to drop iPhones from the sky onto the desks and drafting tables of New Yorker artists Thurber, Steinberg, Arno, and Covarrubias.

I know this will cause severe alterations in our timeline, like leaving a Mentos wrapper at the scene of Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC or a machine gun at the Battle of Gaugamela, but let’s assume that there exists what I’ve dubbed the Emdashes Traversable Wormhole. This shortcut through space and time will allow us to imagine some beautiful digital art created by artists from a non-digital age.

James Thurber with an iPhone: one wonders if he would have enjoyed using it. His failing eyesight would have certainly presented a problem, but the thought of creating art by means of an electric telephone would have tickled his fancy. Thurber’s intimidating female figures would have thundered their way onto the LCD screen and his dogs would have sniffled sadly as the lines of their bodies were summoned to life by means of Thurber’s trembling finger.

Saul Steinberg would have employed his iPhone Dropped from the Sky to create illustrations perhaps on the scale of his Gogol II sketch rather than on the scale of his famous, detailed View of the World from 9th Avenue cover. Perhaps while waiting outside the Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1966, Steinberg may have created on his iPhone a quick sketch like his Two Women illustration.

In any case, I think Steinberg would have taken to the iPhone immediately. He used a wide variety of media with which to create his art, from rubber stamps to paper bags, and his art, as the Saul Steinberg Foundation states, “is about the ways artists make art. Steinberg did not represent what he saw; rather, he depicted people, places, and even numbers or words in styles borrowed from other art, high and low, past and present.”

Colombo’s iPhone-generated New Yorker cover was less a literal depiction than an artist’s impression of city life. In the same way, Steinberg would have used his iPhone as a peripatetic periscope with which to interpret either himself as an artist, the city in which he lived in, or the way in which we communicate.

Peter Arno is the New Yorker artist whom I consider most likely to have used his iPhone to depict city scenes about him. Like Colombo, he would have sketched, perhaps in the application’s Rough Bristly Brush (the other options are Smooth Brush and Fine Bristly Brush), the limo and cab drivers, the automobiles and airplanes, the socialites and the New York policemen. You can check out his opus here.

An explosion of color and geometry would have occurred once Miguel Covarrubias would have grabbed the phone I would have tossed at him from my time machine (my time machine looks exactly like a Reliant Regal Supervan III). The Brushes User’s Guide provides the following tip: “When you start a painting, choose your palette of colors and paint a little blob on the canvas for each one. You can then quickly choose colors from your palette by tapping and holding on the blobs.”

I can picture Covarrubias now, quickly tapping away to create caricatures such as his Al Capone & Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes; Clark Gable & Edward, Prince of Wales;
and Dr. Samuel Johnson & Alexander Woolcott.

A 1948 article on Covarrubias writes of him that “the cold shape of Death was not a familiar in his pictures and he was not weighed down with the shackles of propaganda.” Covarrubias’ iPhone would have become warm with activity and color, unshackled by skulls and unadorned by hammers and sickles.

It’s colorful and interesting, this hypothetical time period of mine. In an alternate history of art and applications for the iPhone, we can see the possibilities of the future through the prism of a fictional past. My next project will involve getting Benjamin Franklin and Gandhi to sign up on Twitter.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree