Shannon Robertson at The NY Times Book Review commissioned me to do an illustration for a review of a book of Arthur Krystal's essays. Mr Krystal writes on literary/ cultural matters for Harper's and The New Yorker. On the Friday I had roughs approved with a Monday deadline. The only snag was that the piece involved employing something of a likeness. And there was absolutely nada online as far as headshots of the author went. I checked with the NY Times, Harper's and the New Yorker and none could find a byline photo. When I got beyond my frustration I was rather impressed that a published author could have fewer pictures of himself showing up on a Google image search than a certain Arab prophet.
With a growing discomfiture (was I going to have to cheat with a silhouette? Or crop to the figure's hands?) I contacted friends in NY to see if they could flush out a likeness. Gumshoe Steve Wacksman turned up an Upper West side address and phone number for an A.Krystal and I duly left a rambling message on this fellow's ansaphone, blurting, 'I'm a great fan of your work' as I signed-off.
Now I had
enjoyed what I'd read by him but I've no idea what possessed me to to fawn so. Particularly as, for all I knew, this might've been the number of- say- Aaron Krystal, Notary (although I liked the idea of such a person picking up a message from a stranger raving about his largely unrecognised work on affadavits)
Remarkably- given the creepy voicemail- Mr Krystal (yes, Mr Arthur
Krystal) called me back that evening and we had a very pleasant chat- both perhaps tickled by the absurdity of the task. In time honoured police artist-fashion he gave me a description of the suspect.
The following day, when I'd almost finished the thing Mr Krystal came up with a somewhat inconclusive snapshot as additional reference.
I turned in the piece late on the Sunday and the Times Art Director seemed happy. However, Mr Krystal was less impressed and wanted three rounds of revisions ('I'd add hair to the temple and thin out the jowl. My mouth is fuller, as is the chin'). A narcissist after my own heart. And yes, he did have a point. Version one, the smaller image here, is rather tuberous of head and playdoh-y of nose.
Other assignments intruded and my whittling had to cease, much as I would've liked to've arrived at subject-approved verisimilitude.
Bringing my stalker-ish utterances full circle, in my last email to Mr Krystal I promised to dust off my long-stashed oil paints and attempt a better portrait of him should I ever fetch up in Manhattan. I bet he's steeling himself for a sitting even as we speak. Or moving upstate. What can I say? I don't get out much and find myself gabbling inanely.
Still, having read a collection of his essays since the assignment I can thoroughly recommend Mr Krystal's work, even (or especially) when he's writing of his cultural disaffections, and personal regrets.
Another Paul Betts piece for the FT. Mr Betts, has a rare old time, filing dispatches from an enchanted realm where he hobnobs with the Great and the Good, bathes in Krug and has cherubim lob grains of Ossetra into his ever-open maw.
But is he happy? Blissfully so, I reckon.