NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

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Neshan 23


R.O. Blechman: The Human Line

Steven Heller

Funny may not the best way to describe R.O. Blechman’s work. Funny is watching someone fall on a banana peel get up and fall again. Blechman’s art foregoes slapstick. It is genuinely humane. There has always been a blend of all things comic and, most important, poignant about his images.
Although many later cartoonists have indeed copied the shaky line technique, no one (literally, no one!) has ever duplicated the same humane qualities of his everyman figures. Perhaps the perception of a special, indeed a spiritual, humanity has something to do with Blechman’s inventive animation work in which he employs voices that transcend the mere line and move from comic to emotionally multifaceted characterizations. (Whenever I, for example, see a static Blechman figure I still hear the dulcet voice of Max Von Sydow. What other cartoonist can trigger voices in the head?) But more likely, Blechman’s ability to invest layers of emotion onto his scratchy homunculi has to do with his painstaking attention to gestured detail. He is a master of the expressive, squiggly gesture.

Contrary to what one might expect goes into such a minimal line (i.e. minimal energy), his every last pen stroke was purposely, sometimes excruciatingly composed. I recall him drawing dozens of tiny squiggly noses on adhesive-backed paper. When he found the right one, he meticulously cut with an Xacto knife and pasted it onto image. The final drawing was pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. And as amazing as his process was, the end product was (in my view) the perfect marriage of comedy and emotion – accomplished through those signature lines.

Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of SVA NYC's MFA Design / Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program. He is the author of over 170 books on design and popular culture and a columnist for the New York Times Book Review and Atlantic magazine online. He is the author of The Daily Heller and the recipient of the 2011 Smithsonian Institution National Design Awards.

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