Hirschfeld's Harlem: Manhattan's Legendary Artist Illustrates This Legendary City Within a City

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9781557835178: Hirschfeld's Harlem: Manhattan's Legendary Artist Illustrates This Legendary City Within a City

(Applause Books). Decades before the PBS documentaries, before Bill Clinton, Al Hirschfeld went to Harlem. No artist ever captured Harlem's dangerous highs and bluesy lows like this Master of the Performing Curve. Hirschfeld began his artistic Harlem odyssey six decades ago, charting that legendary New York neighborhood's special rhythms and moods in splashy feverish hues. Hirschfeld's Harlem opens onto a special portfolio of these full-color works, a pictorial essay of the Swing Era. Wynton Marsalis, Quincy Jones, Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte, among a dozen other Harlem artists and critics, supply accompanying commentary, reminiscences and analysis each voice focusing on one portrait. Then it's back to Hirschfeld in his signature black and white takes on forty Harlem artists and public figures: Gregory Hines, Duke Ellington, James Earl Jones, Ethel Waters and dozens more all have been caught in the creative act by one of our greatest artists. Each drawing is accompanied by a thumbnail narrative by Hirschfeld about the most famous inhabitants and transients of these fabled streets. Hirschfeld's Harlem opens a picture window into nearly a century of Black American artistry and life.

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From the Author:

"I have been so continuously enchanted with the Harlem I had grown up near and visited my whole life. . .Harlem people just keep on rising above whatever met them at eye level; regardless of the rugged terrain or the economic weather, Harlem residents had their own means of levitation. They performed an art form beyond the Arts, beyond the stage, beyond the Cotton Club. Very real people meeting reality head on and then stubbornly transcending it. Some commentators have made much of the fact that these aren’t Hirschfeld's typical performers. Well, they’re not on the stretch of Broadway I had covered before or since. But these Harlemites are performers all right. They are in rehearsal for the performance of their lives. It’s that grand profound ritual I hope to have captured here."

-Al Hirschfeld, January 2003, from his preface, Drawing on Harlem

From Publishers Weekly:

It's a thin line between essence-capturing caricature and insulting cartoon, particularly when it comes to race, so it takes as practiced and bighearted an artist as Hirschfeld (1903-2003), whose caricatures of various cultural figures graced the pages of the New York Times for decades, to take on the challenge of depicting historical Harlem. Parts of this extensive 9"×12" collection, featuring 30 full-color plates and 90 black-and-white drawings printed on art stock, were originally published, as Hirschfeld says, "in a book the size of a swinging door" the day before Pearl Harbor, with the publisher going bankrupt a few months later. This edition is roughly divided between this original "Harlem Portfolio" of color lithographs and selections from more recent black-and-white line drawings of leading African-American figures, with new commentary by such stars as Eartha Kitt, Bobby Short, Lena Horne, and Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. Each commentator focuses on a single piece, which allows drawings that might appear disturbingly dated to be interpreted into a common past. Hirschfeld's own commentary on his sketches, in the last third of the book, leaves no doubt as to his admiration for the talents of actors, musicians and dancers like Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, Marian Anderson, Duke Ellington and scores of others, as well as of his anger at the way promising talents, such as Canada Lee's, were squandered. Perhaps most fun are the drawings, such as "Stompin' at the Savoy," in which Hirschfeld loses himself in the infectious energy of nighttime Harlem, where stern-faced, impeccably dressed residents blur into crackling lines of movement, individuals becoming manifestations of a neighborhood amazingly rich in history, culture and expression.
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