Yesterday I went to the “4 Under 30” opening on the 9th floor of The New York Times, an art exhibit curated by Steven Guarnaccia and featuring work by Dan James, Aya Kakeda, Nora Krug and Sam Weber. It was the first time I’d been back to the Times since I left NYC eight years ago, and will probably be my last visit before the Times packs up and moves next spring to their new headquarters in a gleaming skyscraper a few blocks away on 8th Avenue. I wanted to pay homage to the building where I got my first job as an illustrator (you can read about that experience here), and have so many great memories.
Back when I lived in NYC before there was e-mail, I loved to deliver my assignments personally just so I could go to the Times. To me, the building had a great energy. I would always get a feeling of nervous anticipation as I turned the corner from Times Square onto 43rd Street and saw the Times clock above the entry. What will become of the building once the Times leaves? Will it become luxury condos, or a hotel? The giant bays at street level where the trucks used to deliver huge rolls of paper from Canada would surely make a great location for a high-end restaurant.
Upon entering the lobby, the first thing I noticed is that the pungent scent of ink that came from the printing presses downstairs is now gone. It was always one of my favorite NYC smells. (Apparently the presses are still hulking in the basement like giant metal fossils. What will become of them? Will they be left to rust in some New Jersey scrapheap?) I used to call art directors from a bank of telephones on the right by the security desk so that I could enter the building; the phones are gone, too.
The art department on the ninth floor looks and sounds nearly the same as ever, spartan and as quiet as a crypt.
Even the two chairs in the lobby where I used to sit as I waited for my appointments with Steven Heller are the same. How many illustrators have sat in those chairs over the years? They should be enshrined in an illustrator’s museum.
The art director's offices are to the right and left of the Laurel and Hardy poster.
It was very nice to talk with some art directors who I'd worked with but had never met before. Here's Richard Weigand, holding up the layout for the cover of the Sunday Regionals section; I'd just delivered the artwork for that cover a few days earlier.
Sam Weber, assistant Op-Ed art director and one of the exhibitors in the show, standing next to one of his illustrations.
Talking with Brian Rea, I began naming all the Op-Ed art directors I’ve worked for. It turns out I’ve had assignments with every one since my first job in 1989. I can even list them chronologically: Michael Valenti, Jerelle Kraus, Mirko Ilic, Nicholas Blechman, Peter Buchanan-Smith, Steven Guarnaccia and John Hendrix, Brian Rea and Sam Weber.
On the train home, I get my coup-de-grace: the passenger in the next seat up was reading an article on retirement planning that I’d just illustrated for the art director Virginia Cahill. It reminded me how often I used to see my illustrations in the cast-off newspapers that lay strewn on the subway floor, stained with footprints and coffee. Perhaps that would have been a more perfect ending to my pilgrimage to the Times?