Zurich-based artist Ingo Giezendanner creates densely packed, black and white images of urban scenes; obsessive in their attention to detail but usually with subject matter that’s unspectacular and random. The drawings detail unexpected areas of various cities: a fruit stand with a car next to it, a brick wall covered in graffiti, people eating sandwiches at an outdoor café, an overflowing bin, a crack in the pavement.
Giezendanner has printed these images in zines named Grrrr from 1 to 68 for the past 12 years, and then he’s also plotted each picture to their exact coordinates on a giant black-and-white map on Grrrr.net. His art deals with texture and density, conveying the multilayered stories of a street’s façade and blending the spirit of the sauntering Flaneur with the scrappy aesthetic of early 2000s web-comics.
“It all started in 1998,” Giezendanner says. At the time he was self-publishing zines and drawing narrative comics, creating panels by drawing from observation and getting friends to act out his characters for him. “I had to have backgrounds for my actors, so I’d end up on the street. I learnt to sit there for hours and draw. I realized I was more interested in the backdrops than the characters after a while, in the observation of space.”
Giezendanner published these scenes in his individual zines—all named Grrrr because the word is from the “language of comics”—travelling to different cities and setting up his chair on whatever street corner took his fancy. He draws in black and white because that’s the simplest for quick sketching, and his images are to the edge of a page so that it becomes “a window” framing the world that he creates through looking at our shared one.
“I’ll be attracted to an interesting corner, weird writing on the wall, or other times it’s busyness that interests me,” says Giezendanner. On a recent trip to Thessaloniki in Greece, where he was commissioned to draw a mural, it was the overflowing street kiosks that most fascinated him. “I like density. I like being on a busy corner and experiencing the contrast—I’m slow and quiet, but my surroundings are loud, dirty, moving.”
The drawings are snapshots of a moment—sometimes a park in the summer packed with bathers, another time windows clouded by rain. They are not representations of a place but rather fragments of time. In 1998, one of the first cities Giezendanner visited and documented in this way was San Francisco. 15 years later, he went back with the plan of revisiting the spots he’d originally drawn.
“San Francisco is the city of gentrification, it’s where I first heard that word. I therefore expected to see dramatic changes. It didn’t happen though. Sometimes a place would look even more shabby, other times I couldn’t find the spot because everything was so different.” By choosing the unspectacular corners of urban fabric, Giezendanner creates a portrait of the overlooked, transforming the gritty everyday into something beautiful.
I ask Giezendanner if, after so many years of this project, it has taken any recent new turns. “I realized that the human is missing from my world,” he says. “People were missing because they often move too fast for me to depict, so there aren’t that many. I started to do more projects related to the body bringing them in the urban drawings.” The most recent example of this is Grrrr 66—a “kind of self portrait” of Giezendanner in the form of a publication that unravels to reveal the illustrator’s entire body, every hair and line meticulously rendered with pen. Right now, he’s also working on the story of his recent journey by train from Zurich to Tokyo, and at over 400+ pages, it’ll be the largest zine he’s created yet.
“The original drawing of the street is kind of the beginning, then I like to play around with it—either in the zine or on the site. I’m not too dogmatic about realism even though I draw realistically,” explains Giezendanner. “I like to take things a step further, to make the density even more dense, and to create new spaces from what I observe.”