|Illustrator's Alchemy Makes Everyday Life Into Works of Art
by Laura Jin Joo Lambert
The New York Times, March 4, 2001
Jorge Colombo ducked into the Strand Bookstore just as the snow began to fall and roamed the aisles, his eyes darting about in search of the perfect subject. He passed a bearded man in a plaid coat. He watched, for a moment, a tattooed girl in tight jeans. Neither would do.
Then he saw her, a thin, middle-aged woman wearing a huge red parka and baggy leggings and leaning against a table studying book titles. Mr. Colombo reached into his jacket, grabbed his pen and notebook from an inside pocket, and quickly began to draw.
In less than a minute, the unsuspecting woman became the Feb. 5 installment of the Dailies, Mr. Colombo's continuing project for the web. For two years, Mr. Colombo, a self-taught Portuguese illustrator, has sketched one stranger each day. He transforms the sketches into postcard-sized watercolors, which he dates and posts on his website, www.jorgecolombo.com. Viewed in succession, the Dailies become a collective portrait of ordinary New Yorkers, as seen through the eyes of a cultural outsider. Normality, says Mr. Colombo, is what captures his attention.
The first Daily is dated Feb. 22, 1999. That evening, Mr. Colombo spied a man in a trench coat and fedora walking briskly up Mulberry Street, carrying a brown paper bag, possibly from a bakery. Mr. Colombo sketched him quickly, noting the shape of the coat and the tilt of the hat. He took special note of the man's eyes, how the white showed as he strained to see behind him, as if he were being trailed.
"I wondered if he stole the cannoli," Mr. Colombo said with a laugh.
The possibility of such a narrative is what draws Mr. Colombo to his subject. He likens his Dailies to the work of the French filmmaker Jacques Tati. "Uncle Jacques is one of my patron saints," Mr. Colombo says. "He taught me how much more fun it is to make the story up yourself."
Tati is one in a large, extended family of inspirational figures who have earned endearments as "aunt" or "uncle." There is Aunt Joan (Didion), Uncle Orson (Welles) and Uncle David (Mamet). Mr. Colombo's Portuguese family includes Uncle Victor (Mesquita), the illustrator who was young Jorge's mentor, and Uncle Mega (Antonio Mega Ferreira), who gave him his first break as an illustrator.
Back in his East Village apartment, Mr. Colombo sits at his desk with the sketch from the Strand. The routine is familiar. He redraws the haphazard lines of the sketch until he captures his Daily in the fewest, cleanest lines. Then he tints the image with watercolors and scans it into his Macintosh.
On the street again, Mr. Colombo spots a man wearing work boots and a fluorescent yellow raincoat. The coat reflects off the newly fallen snow, creating a lurid halo. His Daily already drawn, Mr. Colombo simply takes note, saying quietly to himself, "Isn't that amazing?"