Friday, 23 October 2009

Pictures for an Exhibition

Last week a new exhibition opened in Mill Yard Studios, a small art gallery and working studio close to where I live. Lines Coming and Going may not be the snappiest exhibition title around but it does describe what is on show. Line work from six artists, the focus of each being shape and form rather than colour and texture.

And in the case of one of them, jokes. That would be me. Included in the show is original artwork from my Westmorland Gazette cartoon, on show and on sale for the very first time.

It was gratifying to be asked to take part. Cartoonists are usually the poor relations in the art world, cruelly spurned and ignored. Which is why we now have a Cartoon Museum of our own. Some cartoonists can’t draw for toffee, of course, but even their stuff is interesting when placed in a frame an hung on a wall. Artwork designed for print is never the finished article, so you get to see the imperfections. You get to see the blue sketch lines (in my case), the little notes in the margin (Giles) and the ink splats all over the surrounding paper (Scarfe). Giles famously didn’t want anyone to see his originals and claimed he wanted them burned on his death. Fortunately he changed his mind, placed them in the hands of a Trust and they have all been donated to the Cartoon Archive at Kent University, where you can now see them online.

Back to the local exhibition. I was asked to submit eight pieces of artwork and as I have drawn over 1300 cartoons for the Gazette, some drastic filtering was required. I began by only considering cartoons published between 2007 and 2009. This may or may not have been influenced by the fact that I have three year’s worth of archives on my website and I could find them all.

A cartoon on the front of a regional newspaper is both topical and, sometimes, quite parochial. Taken out of context it may make no sense at all. (Left in context mine occasionally make little sense.) So the next stage was to employ a traditional cartooning technique and cheat: I sent an email to friends, colleagues and the usual suspects, asking them to identify the cartoons they liked best.

Favourites quickly began to emerge so now it was my turn to join in.

Time for a confession. The Gazette cartoon is drawn to a deadline. I don’t have the luxury of awaiting inspiration or the exact quality of light to dance across my studio. If I do that there will be a small blank box in the following day’s newspaper. So some of the originals are ok-ish as drawings but nothing special. However, once in an improbably-coloured moon, there’s a drawing which I really, really like. It hits the page without my intervention and looks like somebody good drew it.

So no one is having any of those.

Well, okay, one got in. There’s no point being entirely selfish, it’s a selling exhibition after all. Interestingly, it was also the one my fellow exhibitors immediately identified as their favourite.

In the end, out of the 150 plus drawings, whittling it down to eight was a remarkably painless process (helped by getting other people to do most of the work, of course). You can see the selection on my website. Better still, get down to Mill Yard Studios before the exhibition finishes on 1 November and buy one of the cartoons.

As long as it’s not my favourite.

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