Julia Rothman, an artist and partner at ALSO Design Studio, has combined her love of drawing with her other great love–New York City, where she has lived all her life, save the four years she spent at RISD, where she now teaches.
In her new book, Hello NY: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Boroughs, she pays homage to all of the Big Apple’s flawed glory–she even draws the rats, the overpriced apartments, and the waterbugs (“So big, they have personalities,” she writes).
Part memoir, part guidebook, Hello NY is a whimsical hodgepodge of personal stories (memories of fried fish at Johnny’s Reef, in the Bronx’s beachy City Island, where Rothman grew up), literary snippets (a tongue-and-cheek “Ode to the Bodega”), and facts (the evolution of the taxicab). Rothman wanted to feature “obscure things in New York you might not know about,” she says.
How good a New Yorker are you, really, if you don’t know about the secret bar and tennis court in Grand Central Station, or about Staten Island’s Tugboat Graveyard and Tattoo Museum?
It’s a slightly different city for each of its 8.3 million inhabitants. Rothman’s illustrated interviews with a cast of characters get into the style and sensibility of New York’s particular brand of urban life.
Those New Yorkers offer a whimsical, kaleidoscopic perspective on a city that’s changing by the second. Highlights include the elf-ear-wearing head of the Troll Museum; a Hasidic Jewish landlord with wise love advice; and Rothman’s own father, who tells of his Bronx childhood fishing for Spauldeen balls in sewers and games of stick ball. (“My dad’s really excited to be in the book, though he just shaved his beard for the first time in 20 years, and he’s worried people won’t recognize him in the portrait,” Rothman says sweetly.)
The book is illustrated in black pen, and hand-colored–in a style reminiscent of Maira Kalman’s work. It is Kalman, Rothman says, who “opened the door for picture books for adults” with her illustrated American history book, And The Pursuit of Happiness.
A year and a half in the making, Hello NY is a fresh, original addition to a long tradition of literary and artistic love letters to the city that never sleeps, from Bright Lights, Big City to Eloise. “Whenever I go to Manhattan, especially, I’m always in awe,” Rothman says. “I look up and get excited about the buildings–how tall and beautiful they are. Even though I’ve seen it hundreds of times before, I still feel this love, this great warm feeling, about New York. I never get bored. It never gets old.”
Hello, NY is available from Chronicle Books for $18.95.