Friday, May 30, 2008

Bob Schulenberg: New York Drawings, I

Café Figaro, August 5th, 1961. © Bob Schulenberg.
By Bob Schulenberg

In those early days, I had recently moved to New York after growing up in California and going to UCLA. Everything was a feast for the eyes. I would just go on forays round the village documenting stuff with my sketchbook. I always liked Thomas Wolfe and his nostalgic feelings about the changes of time, the transitory nature of things and I felt that nothing would ever ever be quite the same as the moment I drew it.

I always thought that someday — maybe even 48 years later, I or someone would look at them and see how it was then. I'm always fascinated by Jacob Riis' photographs of New York at the beginning of the 20th century.

I never ever thought of my drawings as Art — never — but as reporting or commenting.

I had Ronald Searle's book, Paris Sketchbook with wonderful drawings my inspiration.

There were a lot of coffee houses along MacDougal Street, and the Figaro was kind of bigger and somehow more celebrated. Actually, it was just larger and on a busy, busy corner; I think that made the difference.
Café Figaro, today.
Figaro had quite a mix sometimes but mostly it was neighborhood (I lived on Gay Street at the time). Weekends it was awash with tourists. It was just a very comfortable cafe where you could sit all day and even read the whole New York Times ' Sunday edition without any staffer bothering you. No pressure. There was a beautiful glass standing screen that had inlaid in it in pale amber-colored glass, the name "Cafe Figaro." (That screen also ended up in the West Hollywood place at the end of Melrose where it used to intersect – before they closed it off – with Doheny Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard.)

The drawing is from their location on the southeast corner of Bleecker and MacDougal.

I think it was the Figaro that had a backroom with a VIP feeling even though it was unrestricted and it was in that room that Paul Bartel, Bob Stone and I were one night when one of our most-admired celebrities walk in. Someone gasped "Omigod!!" and Paul said "Who? Who?" and Bob and I said "CARMEN" (Dell'Orifice athough she was always just "Carmen" to everyone in New York and was always photographed by Richard Avedon.) 

Paul was completely confused by our excitement as he had no idea who Carmen was. It was 1960 and she was at the height of her beauty; one of the most beautiful women in New York.

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