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Back to Reviews 96

steve wolfe 
at luhring augustine

by Robert Mahoney

Steve Wolfe's incredibly meticulous 
drawings of book covers and record
labels are so detailed, they look like the 
real thing under glass. In his record 
labels, he also builds up the surface with 
materials to give the drawing a record-like 
relief. Superrealism, the feeling that you 
are back in possession of the real thing, 
gives to these drawings their emotional 
payoff. Wolfe enlists drawing in the service 
of a souvenir-besotten self, a fetishist 
of time and time lost. What he documents 
materially is absolutely consistent with a 
truth that any flea-market or street-table 
bookseller will tell you. Readers who have 
stopped reading, or moved on in their 
reading, pour over tables to rediscover 
their youth -- to have Proustian moments 
over a certain cover or a certain "first 
impression" edition of a book (that is, the
edition which made the first impression on 
you). And when they see it, they buy it, to 
reread, in crumbling, yellowed pages, not 
so much the text as text, but the text as 
something which made a tremendous impact on 
one's life. So Wolfe gives us an exact 
replica in ink of the cover of Truman 
Capote's In Cold Blood, its creases and 
dogears softening a memory of when that 
book, and that book alone, was said to 
have acted as a threshold to the onset of 
violence in American "fact-ion" and movies. 
Or there is the lost smokey cafe-reading 
eternal-twenty-year-old glamor of the black 
and white Grove Press covers of the novels 
of Celine, and others. And as for record 
labels: conversation buzzes upon a sighting 
of the split halves of a Beatles Apple, or 
a flashback effect, near a mandala-induced 
hypnosis, is produced by sight of Capitol 
records old 45 RPM yellow and orange 
yin-yang spin. Like everything else Wolfe 
does, it brings it all back.