Mason Bongers and his mom Julie, stood just below the schedule board at Union Station admiring the famed New York City pencil drawing called “The Super Big Apple.”
“It’s amazing,” Mason said. “I didn’t know people could do that with pencils, just drawing it.”
“It’s amazing even as a photograph and then to learn it was done with pencil… the detail is extraordinary,” Julie said. “Even the perspective -- it’s almost an aerial perspective, but it still has everything.”
The drawing is by New Haven artist Gregory Krikko Obbott, known worldwide for his massive pencil-drawn cityscapes. This one and others are back on the walls of the New Haven train station, following a remodeling project.
Scaled-down versions of his drawings of New York, Boston, and New Haven used to hang by the bathrooms and vending machines. Now, they’re in a new location at the heavily-trafficked entrance leading to the train tracks. “The Super Big Apple,” has also been updated, reflecting the Freedom Tower in place of the World Trade Center.
The Nigerian-born artist, known just as Krikko, came to the U.S. in the '70s to study architecture at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It’s that architectural training that Krikko said is crucial to his intense detail work.
“It’s a discipline of architecture,” Krikko said. “You have to cut and measure -- proportion, for you to deceive the eye. But you can still see that detail so far away.”
WNPR spoke with Krikko in his three-story museum that he gutted and renovated to display his room-sized original drawings.
The modest Hill Museum of Arts is located in the Hill section of New Haven.
To make his art, Krikko uses aerial photographs and maps to draw authentic replicas of buildings with the exact number of windows.
He measures to get the right proportions, then applies his fine art skills to achieve color tones and images like trees.
Get closer to the drawings and they reveal intricate shingled roofs, masonry work on brick buildings, and city life with cars and people on the go.
But seeing the original 20-by-15-foot piece gives the experience of being in the drawing with a bird’s-eye view. Krikko experiments with angles to achieve that very effect.
“This is a one-point perspective,” Krikko said. “What I’m doing here: I’m creating this angle that is almost impossible. You are so close to it. Then again, you can still see the distance, the vanishing.”
The 65-year-old artist still works as an architect. He’s currently redesigning the facade of a New Haven building.
His popular black-and-white depiction of New York City is one of the originals displayed at the museum. The drawing, which was done in the 1990s, took four years and 2,500 pencils. Reproductions can be found as postcards and posters all over the world. But it’s the full-sized versions that have the real sense of enormity. Krikko said they communicate depth and reality, which he described as stressful and exhausting to achieve.
“There’s so much pride and strength and frustration that goes into doing it,” he said. “Why do it? Because, to prove that I can do it. You’ve got to see it. There’s no way to describe it. If somebody tells you you’ve got to see this art… it’s pencils.”
Krikko is currently working on another drawing of New York City from a new angle. He’s also working on a project to animate his prints at Union Station to make it an interactive experience.