September 3 2014

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Paper Chase: The Art of Eric Chase Anderson


One of the pleasurable discoveries I made last week at the House of Waris Tea Room, a temporary pop-up store orchestrated by the jeweler Waris Ahluwalia on 24th Street in New York, was the work of Eric Chase Anderson. Even if I didn’t recognize the name, though, it turned out I was already familiar with his art. Eric is a longtime contributor to his brother Wes’ movies: Among other things, he did the portraits of Margot Tenenbaum that are attributed to Richie in The Royal Tenenbaums, drew the animals that appear on the suitcases in The Darjeeling Limited, and has illustrated the covers for his sibling’s Criterion Collection DVDs. Last week was the first time Eric has exhibited his work, which in addition to art related to movies like The Life Aquatic, includes illustrations from his novel Chuck Dugan Is AWOL. The Tea Room is now closed, but pieces are available via The prints are charming, reasonably priced, and, with the holidays coming up, make the perfect gift for the underwater explorer or former tennis prodigy in your life. I e-mailed Eric (above, center) a few questions about his work, his collaboration with his brother, and the importance of corduroy suits.

I think our readers would be interested in your story of tracking down the printer and working right up to the last minute before Sunday’s party for the DVD release of The Darjeeling Limited. But (blame your sponsors, Belvedere) I’m a little hazy on the details. Remind me: What was the process involved and why did you need a printer familiar with the “pre-digital” way of printing?

The Darjeeling Limited DVD cover illustration is a very challenging picture to reproduce, with a lot of tiny, faint patterns and tonal contrasts. I like doing things the old-fashioned way as much as possible, so in attempting to reproduce it as an actual wall print I sought help from a veteran printer named Vikram Patel, who has a business called Pixeltone on West 25th Street. He’s a serious printer with decades of expertise. Conversations with him veer into lists of acronyms and numbers. It’s like talking to an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab. You nod your head and pretend to be getting everything, but I think he understands that you don’t. I really wanted to try and make beautiful prints, and he personally scanned and then proofed the image digitally. Then I hand-corrected each of the prints that we were selling with a drafting pencil, signed and numbered them. I was doing so right up until the party and stopped only once I realized it looked antisocial.

Were all the illustrations from the Criterion covers and the movies, or also from your novel or other sources?

The House of Waris Tea Room/Darjeeling Limited DVD show included a mix of work from throughout the last decade. There were two pictures from the Life Aquatic DVD (a cutaway of Steve Zissou’s ship, the Belafonte, and a portrait of Seu Jorge playing guitar and singing). There were five pictures from The Royal Tenenbaums (for the character of Richie’s artwork, a series of portraits of his sister reading different plays.) There was the Darjeeling Limited/Criterion Collection DVD cover. And there were three original pieces—maps—from my book Chuck Dugan Is AWOL.

Is the drawing of the lagoon from The Life Aquatic?

The Map of the Lagoon is from the penultimate chapter of Chuck Dugan Is AWOL—the climax. That piece comes from an overlapping period when Wes was making The Life Aquatic and I was writing and illustrating a book about a boy at the Naval Academy.

What is the correct term for the technique you use for your illustrations? Are they pen-and-ink drawings (forgive my ignorance)?

I certainly forgive your ignorance of the technique I use for illustrating, since I’m ignorant of it, too. “Illustrating” I think means something that’s made to be reproduced, and that’s what I do, as all my heroes did, too. I use a drafting pencil, drafting pens with waterproof india ink, and gouache paint, which is opaque watercolor—the same thing magazine and advertising illustrators used (it was once called designer’s color.) But the Darjeeling Limited DVD cover doesn’t have any ink at all, just pencil and paint—so that’s a new one for me.

Any projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to mention?

I’m writing another book that will also have illustrations. It’s called Henry Pidgeon Presents and is about a boy who is duped into appearing, then starring, in an elaborate, mysterious, live, sci-fi TV show in New York City in 1953. I’ll draw the advertisements—the “sponsor’s spots.”

At what age did you do your first illustrations?

Apart from childhood and a poster for a play in college, I was a late-blooming illustrator. My first grown-up drawings were maps to try and help me figure out a long story I was working on. I was 26 at the time and had bought my drafting supplies, believe it or not, from a man in a bar for $5.

How long have you been working with Wes on his movies and how does your collaboration work?

I’ve been working with my brother on movies since I was under the age of ten, so it feels very much like home to do so now. We have another friend, Wally Wolodarsky, who describes being asked to help with another movie as answering the “red phone”—you get the call and leap into action. That’s pretty much my impression, too. Only in my case, it usually involves answering the “bat phone”—and doing some drawings. Sometimes it’s a tiny thing. I drew the animals for the Darjeeling Limited suitcases in a day or two. I didn’t even really understand what I was being asked to do at the time, but I liked it. Other jobs are very involved. The Darjeeling DVD illustrations took five months, which is not unusual.

Lastly, and most importantly: The Andersons appear to share an affinity for smart corduroy suits. How did that come about?

Who doesn’t like a corduroy suit! My first one was actually a magnificent gift from my brother for working in a variety of illustrating/designing capacities on The Royal Tenenbaums. It’s a beautiful blue suit that I treasure to this day, so I wear it sparingly.

Photos: Neil Rasmus/; Eric Chase Anderson



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