Thursday, May 26, 2016

Peter Arno: Santa's Close-Up

Peter Arno's 1965 Christmas season cartoon "Hi, Kitten. This is Oogie" is in some ways the slightest of gags, a play on our expectations about names and relationships. Preliminary artwork sold at Swann Galleries in January seems almost press-ready, with a pencil notation to "Leave Phone-booth slightly tilted—as it is!" Oogie, dressed for work as Santa, sports a mod pair of sunglasses, a gentle reminder of the tumultuous changes in fashion already taking place at mid-decade.

It is surprising, then, to see the editorial change of heart that took place before publication. Arno, who could handle a full page in the magazine like no other artist, instead zooms in on his Santa in the phone booth, presenting a smaller, more intimate space. The crowd, the buildings, the Salvation Army kettle, even the sunglasses, are gone from this version. The gag has been reduced to its bare bones, and it's hard not to feel something has been lost along the way.

Nevertheless, Arno knows how to keep his figure dynamic. The full standing Oogie is posed with one folded arm and with crossed legs. Arno alters the pose in close-up, creating new angles and diagonals at the arm, shoulder, and abdomen, accentuated by the loss of the overcoat. In this way, he maintains some tension in the figure even at close range.

"Hi, Kitten...this is Oogie..."
Peter Arno, Preliminary artwork
The New Yorker, December 4, 1965, page 51
Swann Galleries, January 28, 2016, Sale2403, Lot 229, Hammer Price

Price with Buyer's Premium

"Hi, Kitten. This is Oogie."
Peter Arno, The New Yorker, December 4, 1965, page 51

"Hi, Kitten. This is Oogie."
Peter Arno, The New Yorker, December 4, 1965, page 51

Note:  If I told you that clicking on the aqua link would take you to everything on this blog about preliminary New Yorker cartoon art, would you do it?

How about clicking to see all the posts here about Peter Arno?

Oogie out!



  1. I love the original drawing with the sunglasses & background details. Why didn't they print it? Arno always deserves a full page. - loyal reader Paul M

    1. I have no idea, Paul. Perhaps they thought all those details were superfluous.