This app exists primarily to promote a book by the same title. Both contain the precise yet allusive pen and ink drawings (some with text) of Paul Madonna, who has contributed a weekly column of such drawings to the San Francisco Chronicle for many years. The book is very beautiful and has many more images, but the app might be my preferred way to experience Madonna’s work. (I don’t have a coffee table, so in my apartment, coffee table books tend to get tucked away somewhere and forgotten.)
Madonna’s drawings depict places in cities — usually, but not always, San Francisco. They aren’t important or famous spots, just everyday intersections, a block of Victorian row houses, even the occasional vacant lot. But urbanites know that something significant has happened in almost every inch of a city, even if its significance is known only to those individuals who experienced it. Every cityscape is a little bit haunted, but most city-dwellers are hustling along too quickly to feel it.
San Francisco is different. The disorienting hills and chardonnay light make it a dreamy place. It’s full of quiet pockets where all sense of urgency evaporates. Those are the places that Madonna draws, with an obsessive attention that makes them ravishing.
In the app, animations have been used to enhance certain images. There are also easter eggs that, when tapped, lead either to a web page or to another cache of images. These are most subtle, slow effects, the very opposite of the gimmicky interactivity in a lot of enhanced ebooks. At their most dynamic, they zoom into a part of an image until it dissolves into the texture of the paper or suggests an untapped depth. The potency of Madonna’s work has a lot to do with its stillness. No people appear in his drawings. The places in these images are suspended in time, and the animations work to slow you down until you’re able to absorb this quality. It’s one of the loveliest apps on my iPad, and it was free.