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Tracey Kleinman Berglund draws pictures in real-time, visualizing what speakers like Bill Clinton and Melinda Gates are talking about. She’s live-illustrated everything from events about robotics to peacekeeping to focus groups on making tastier sausage products. You will also see her work regularly online in The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts. Here’s Tracey’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
Born in Brooklyn, couldn’t wait to get out. My first apartment in ‘The City’ was in Hell’s Kitchen back in the early 80s.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
At that time, in the early 80s, this area was dangerous. My art school friend and I drove down 9th Avenue and when we saw an apartment building that looked ok, I’d get out and talk to the Supers. We rented an apartment with a shower stall in the kitchen. Someone shot into our apartment from an abandoned building one night. I left the country for 11 years! Now I’m back in the neighborhood for the past three years after winning the housing lottery.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
I feel like I’m always walking the footsteps of my 21-year-old self — and also the lingering industrial feeling along 10th and 11th Avenues.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
Dog shit not cleaned up… but that’s everywhere.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
I stayed put. Making art, reading books, and listening to music are my escapes.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I did quite a bit of ‘live’ graphic — recording, illustrating at events — literally drawing pictures real-time visualizing what speakers were talking about. I illustrate everything from events about robotics to peacekeeping to focus groups on making tastier sausage products.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
Interesting? Hmmm… I think that humans still crave humans, hearing their voices, seeing each other in 360 degrees, intimacy even amongst friends and acquaintances… A sense of movement and being expected somewhere — people in NY always seem to have a place to be, a time limit… I’m learning about how humans adjust to time.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
Camaraderie and kindness… Some formalities have come down and I find that I can be helpful to others without putting a price on it, and others can to me, as well… in unexpected ways.
What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
Unknowingly living right next door — next building — to my college art school friend who I’d shared an apartment with in Hell’s Kitchen 30 years earlier.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
Fame doesn’t interest me, nor celebrity. Getting my work out into the world is great — so getting work in The New Yorker online made me happy. In the 80s Billy Idol was crossing Ninth Ave and asked me if I wanted to share a cab with him downtown. Ever honest, I said, “I’m going uptown.”
I’ve illustrated talks by Margaret Atwood, Melinda Gates, Annie Lennox, Norman Lear and Bill Clinton in the past 3 years. But I had an embarrassing ‘missed opportunity’ with celebrity. I was drawing all day in Santa Barbara for NBC and, exhausted after many hours, I went to my room to rest and missed the surprise guest, Oprah Winfrey! I could have met her and drawn her while she gave a speech and instead was playing Words With Friends in my hotel room! Damn.
What’s your superpower?
Seeing. Noticing. Remembering dreams.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
I don’t shower, I bathe, and usually I listen to NPR with my laptop balanced on the toilet.
Which people inspire you the most?
Scientists, artists, writers, activists, musicians, people trying to lift society up and who are not afraid to speak up or change their opinions when contrary evidence is presented… I respect mothers and fathers a great deal, and teachers.
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“Love life and life will love you back. Love people and they will love you back.” Arthur Rubinstein.
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
Love no, like yes. It’s a human experiment, everyone comes to see what, I really don’t know. People are supporting the city and the theater.
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
It’s ugly and impersonal. The architecture is brutish. The sculpture thing looks like a disembodied rib cage. No, it’s apocalyptical.
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
Council Thrift Shop, the coffee shop, Cornell’s, that used to be on 54rd and Ninth. The treasure trove that was Housing Works underneath World Wide Plaza.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
You can find my illustrations here — and See Hear Draw is the business that I run with my son, Aiden. I taught him to “live draw” and we often work together on big jobs.
HELL’S KITCHEN HAPPY PLACES
Sea Breeze Fish Market (W40th Street and 9th Avenue). The fish, the authenticity of it.
Ikebana-Zen (W53rd Street between 9/10th Ave). It’s an AMAZING omakase sushi place that opened, then closed, then plans to reopen on March 4th.
Sacco Pizza (9th Avenue between W54/55th St). The pizza is amazing and the owners are so nice!
MoMA (W53rd Street between 5/6th Ave). It’s so inspiring. I love the renovation and new curatorship.
The Landmark Tavern (W46th Street and 11th Ave). The atmosphere and great burgers.