You could spend days, weeks, months poring over the gorgeous oversized Universe book, “New York Line By Line: From Broadway to the Battery.”
It’s a collection of stunning line drawings of the city done during the 1950s and 1960s by a German artist who called himself “Robinson.” The drawings are so large that you can really lose yourself in them. And the fact that they were made more than 40 years ago makes them doubly fascinating — one page is filled with a detail-packed view of a teeming Mott Street in Chinatown, a double-spread of Grand Central Terminal shows us a great building that has always overshadowed the stores and signs and people who have passed through it.
Werner Kruse (1910-1993) was a Berlin-born illustrator who took his pen name from the children’s book that inspired him to draw, “Robinson Crusoe.”
Kruse developed a style he called the “X-ray view” in his drawings of cityscapes that showed details that could not be captured in photographs. In his foreword, author and illustrator Matteo Pericoli notes, “As a writer selects each word he will use, Robinson’s lines are not randomly placed; the one at the center of the composition, right where the eye falls first, has gone through the same decision-making process as the one that lies at the edge, where — most probably — one’s eye might rarely land.”
“New York is the most generous of any artistic subject: it gives itself wholly without hesitation, and is ultimately morbidly curious about your opinion. Robinson’s work is a most courageous act of love. He gives the city back to us, line by line, after an obsessively successful and exhilirating journey of discovery,” Pericoli adds.
Robinson also “gives back to us” buildings that no longer exist, such as a “Bohemian restaurant in Greenwich Village” where the people dominate the drawing as they do in no other image in the book and a full-page drawing of the old Metropolitan Opera House (at Broadway and 39th St.) which was demolished shortly after the artist made his drawing.
Some of the views of vanished places are terribly tantalizing, including the long-closed “Penthouse Club” restaurant on the 15th floor of 30 Central Park South and a vast interior drawing of a packed antique shop on Third Ave.
“New York Line By Line” is a wonderful gift from the Universe division of Rizzoli.