Rafael Alterio Interview
On working with Frédéric Beigbeder, Hitchcock and his Paris studio

Rafael Alterio Interview
Statue of Liberty by Rafael Alterio

Earlier this year. Assouline published it’s debut novel. Penned by prolific author and filmmaker Frédéric Beigbeder, Manhattan’s Babe is the fictional, and bitter-sweet account of the teenage fling between writer J.D. Salinger and Oona O’Neill in 1941, just a few months before the USA entered WWII. Taking us back to 1930s New York and California, Manhattan’s Babe makes for a dizzying tour through the decade’s cocktail haunts, mansions and coastal towns. All the more reason for Assouline and Frédéric Beigbeder to recruit young illustrator and artist Rafael Alterio to capture the book’s scenic locales and famous faces, from Truman Capote to Salinger himself. Something About spoke to Rafael Alterio about working with Frédéric Beigbeder, Hitchcock and his desk in Paris.

Rafael Alterio Interview
Rafael Alterio Self-portrait for Something About

You recently collaborated with French author Frédéric Beigbeder on Manhattan’s Babe, the first novel published by Assouline. How did this collaboration come about? How did you approach illustrating a novel and where there any guidelines such as which materials you should use?

Assouline, with whom I’ve already worked with before, contacted me to illustrate the novel. They knew that I worked with watercolor and proposed me to embody Frédéric Beigbeder’s novel with that technique. Watercolor emulates the idea of nostalgia and memory present throughout the book. I then read the novel several times to let atmosphere fill my mind and selected the parts that appeared to me to be key moments of the text or just parts that seemed to be fun to paint.

Now that Manhattan’s Babe has been published, do you have any favourite illustrations that made it into the final version?

I have many! I think I love all of them for different reasons. But if I have to answer your question, for only one illustration, I would say the wave on page 105. That’s only the illustrator’s point of view because I remember that it came out in almost one brush stroke so I love the purity of it. The making and the result gave me a lot of pleasure.

The book also includes portraits of writers such as Ernest Hemingway in addition to places set in the past, including Manhattan’s famous 1920s Stork Club. How did you research these?

I did some research on the internet and some books of course. For example, there’s a Hitchcock movie, The Wrong Man, that features the Stork Club that helped me a lot to feel the mood of that era in New York, and especially the club, where the beginning of the book takes place.  The atmosphere that Frédéric Beigbeder describes has always been very close to my tastes regarding music, literature and cinema. It was a great pleasure for me illustrating that time.

Rafael Alterio Interview
Ernest Hemingway by Rafael Alterio

How should we look at your illustrations; while reading the novel, or after?

I think that on one hand the illustrations can be looked at before, as a ‘trailer’ in a way, for the reader to quickly feel the ambience and themes of the book but on the other hand, being surprised by the images page by page while reading the novel can also be a good way to approach them.

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You previously collaborated with Assouline in 2011 on Daniel Boulud Cocktails & Amuse- Bouches, For Her & For Him. How did this project differ for you?

The project differs on the themes of course, you have food on one side and a whole novel on the other side. But I think the main idea remains the same. The images are not only here to illustrate a text or a recipe, they are here to propose a universe to the reader where he might feel like cooking, eating or simply diving into a graphical atmosphere.

Rafael Alterio Interview
Jenkinson by Rafael Alterio

How did you become an illustrator? Was this you dream job? 

Plan B might always be try to do things with my hands. Which I luckily always did. I love to paint and draw so I’ve always accepted different jobs where these activities were involved. Whether it concerns my paintings or an order, I am always in the same process of making something that excites me in a personal way. I don’t want to put any frontiers between my various activities.

Where do you work from?

I live and work in Paris at the top floor of a building. My desk is placed in front of a window where I can see these classic sheet metal grey Parisian roof tops and a large piece of sky. A lonely raven comes from time to time to keep me company…

Rafael Alterio Interview
Typewriter by Rafael Alterio