Original Model T’s (No. 2 in a series of commissioned artworks)
by Naomi Fry
The New York Times' T Magazine Blog, August 1, 2011
(see original article here)
There are artists who like to sequester themselves in their studios and tune out the world, and then there is Jorge Colombo, a modern-day version of Baudelaire’s flâneur: a “passionate spectator,” intent on observing the urban landscape. Colombo prefers to stand unobtrusively in the street, iPhone or (more rarely, due to its size) iPad in hand, and finger-paint on its touch screen. With the wide eyes of the tourist he is not he has lived in the United States since 1989, and in New York for the past 13 years -- Colombo is that uncommon specimen, a New Yorker who actually takes time to pause and hear the churn of the city.
Which is exactly what makes this Lisbon-born illustrator so unique. Colombo’s cover for the June 1, 2009 issue of The New Yorker was the first such one drawn for a major magazine using the iPhone application Brushes, and he continues to be an on-location documenter, creating what he calls “un-ironic valentines” to his city. “I like to keep the perspective of a newcomer,” Colombo said, “that innocence that can still take in what is distinctive about the landscape of the city.” And valentines they are -- seductive and charming and full of warmth. (Many of them will be collected in the book “New York: Finger Paintings by Jorge Colombo,” due out in October.)
His reinterpretations of the T as billboard and road sign are striking not just for the formal elegance and economy of Colombo’s line -- his finger adding, taking away and adding again, in what amounts to something of a dance -- but also for the ease with which he captures the quintessence of these two metropolitan icons: that inverted cupid’s bow that makes up the top of the sign’s logo; those black rectangles turning into high-rises flanking the billboard’s infrastructure. The ambient soundtracks attached to the pieces (one taped on a downtown Manhattan rooftop, the other near the Brooklyn Queens Expressway) further exemplify the artist’s commitment to a careful representation of the urban environment that surrounds him.
Colombo stresses that what is most important about his illustrations isn’t necessarily the innovative technology he uses, since the iPhone and iPad “will eventually become just tools like any others in an illustrator’s tool kit.” He admits, however, that the narrative element that digital painting allows for, when its making is revealed in stroke-by-stroke videos as it is in the T’s featured here, does affect his process. “Since the T logo is the thing that everyone is expecting to see anyway, I put that in first,” he said. “But once that’s done, I like to keep the viewers guessing what I’m about to draw.” Colombo, in other words, is urging us to slow down, be patient, and look: we might just be surprised.