Pencil Puller/Pusher

Pencil Puller/PusherPencil Puller/PusherPencil Puller/Pusher

F our years. 300 square feet. 2,496 pencils.

They’re what artist and architect Krikko Obbott poured into Super Big Apple, a mammoth 20’x15’ aerial rendering of New York City. The highest edge of the piece touches the ceiling of his gallery, gently curling out like a house plant growing towards sunlight.

Complete with all major landmarks and roadways and even cars and trucks to zip through them, the level of detail across its oversized format is incredible. Attention is given to each shingle, each window pane, each taxicab door. The Hudson and the East Rivers are shaded laboriously to a snaking mass of smooth, dark gray, and buildings are surgically correct. “The detail gives me a chance to express my restless energy,” Obbott explains.

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Pencil work on this scale is both physically and mentally demanding, and in order to make the process manageable, Krikko works section by section on a drafting table that he designed and built himself. Super Big Apple is comprised of 18 sections total, which fit together to form a dramatic, angled view of Manhattan, with surrounding boroughs crowding the edges. Famed German pencil manufacturer Staedtler was so struck by Super Big Apple that they offered Krikko an endorsement upon its completion, continuing to supply all of his pencils at no cost.

He favors graphite for its flexibility across a wide range of lines and tones. In his drawing process he also uses rulers; a “french curve,” a tool that creates precise curved lines in architectural renderings; and erasers he’s cut down to a sharp edge. They help him draw deductively, softening some tones while sharpening his linework. Prints of Super Big Apple scaled down to different sizes have been sold around the world for the past 20 years, with 43 vendors in New York City alone. From these sales, and from current commissions, Krikko has been able to transform his passion into a lucrative business.

A resident of New Haven, Obbott originates from Nigeria, where the largely wooded landscape shaped much of his work as an architect. “While I was there, I was commissioned on a lot of houses,” he says, noting that the lack of red tape made it “a lot easier to be able to move from blueprint to construction.” That higher level of freedom extended to design creativity as well. “They were very artistic [structures],” he says.

It was during this time of experimentation that Obbott discovered his passion for drawing as an end, not a means. He immigrated to America in 1974, later receiving a scholarship to the University of Louisiana, Lafayette in pursuit of a formal architecture degree.

“I don’t usually talk too much about it, but I experienced quite a bit of difficulty in school,” Obbott says. Racism in the deep south was still endemic at the time of his enrollment; worse still, he was the only minority in his class. In his senior year, he was expelled after a professor gave him a failing grade on a project, which Obbott maintains was racially motivated. After a review by the school’s disciplinary committee, the expulsion was reduced to a one-year suspension.

But while this didn’t lessen Obbott’s outrage or frustration, it did carry a silver lining. “When I was on suspension, that is when I started drawing cities,” he says. His emotions fueled his craft, and after the head of the art department took notice of his talent, the drawings enabled him to re-enter school before the official end of the suspension. Finally regaining control of his academic career, Obbott completed his degree and his final thesis—naturally, the biggest drawing in his class. “Since then, I’ve been drawing big,” he says with pride.

To see Obbott’s big, impressive works for yourself, you can visit his New Haven gallery/studio, The Hill Museum of Arts. Along with the full-size Super Big Apple, it features a large collection of his cityscapes, including a south-facing cross-section of New Haven about half the size of Apple—so, huge. Located at 210 West Street, the museum is a former carriage house once owned by the long-defunct Hull’s Brewery. In a state of total disrepair when he purchased it, Obbott redesigned it and renovated it on his own, except for the contractor he hired to do the framing.

When time allows, he hopes to build a front facing elevator in the museum so that visitors can see a panorama of his works from a variety of heights. “The sky’s the limit” he says. “If you can dream it, you can do it, right?”

Krikko Obbott & The Hill Museum of Arts
210 West St, New Haven (map)
Wed-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 12-4pm
(203) 773-1900
www.krikkoproductions.com

Written and photographed by Emerson Smith.

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When she isn't writing, Emerson is painting. When she isn't writing or painting, she's holding a yoga pose, taking a long hike, eating a good meal, enjoying the smooth sounds of an Atmosphere album or swigging an ice-cold whiskey ginger.

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