August 1, 2012
When German-born but New Jersey-bred artist Adolf Konrad (1915-2003) traveled through Rome and Egypt in 1962 and 1963, he made himself a visual packing aid. Amidst illustrations of street life and landscapes, his sketchbook included a graphic packing list in watercolor and ink accompanied by a sketch of the wanderer himself wearing only his skivvies.
Clothing was kept minimal: A couple of pairs of pants, underwear and socks, a few shirts, a coat, a blazer, sunglasses. (Although if you take a closer look, striped boxers, playful socks and red polka-dotted shirt with oversized green collar seem to indicate he was quite a dapper fellow, even in basics.) Art supplies, of course, were essential: paint brushes, fountain pens, pencils, sketchbooks, journals, a palette knife, pastels, watercolors, oil paints, two cameras, a light meter, an eraser, ink. Hygiene wasn’t overlooked—Konrad carried his own soap along with regular toiletries—and then there are the errant items that might be up for interpretation. A loaf of bread? A cocktail shaker and travel drink glass? Safety pins?
And he was an artist on a budget; he carried the classic Europe on $5 a Day travel guide (Was it ever really just $5 per day?) along with bills, coins and his passport.
Housed in the Smithsonian’s collection, the illustrated packing inventory was part of last year’s show, Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art at the Morgan Library in New York City. Konrad’s list reminds me of Joan Didion’s from The White Album, the first post in this packing list series. Both kept to simple, interchangeable uniforms that are typical when traveling light; both placed precedence on the tools of their craft: paint, brushes and a sketchbook for Konrad and for Didion, portable typewriter, legal pads and pens. Beyond evoking the practicalities (and simultaneous romance) of travel and the uniform of dress, what I like about these lists is how they provide unexpectedly satisfying windows into the creative process.
Images: Smithsonian’s Archive of American Art
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