First published in The Guardian online 1 June 2011
You could have zilch interest in art and you would still know this painting – The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Very few artworks are as iconic as this one – if there were my life would be a lot easier. It’s risky making jokes about art as there is a danger of losing the audience if they’re not familiar with the artwork. Is there are a more dangerous abyss edge to be teetering on? I don’t think so. Try finding the episode where Bear Grylls draws art cartoons. You can’t – it doesn’t exist. Even he is too gutless.
I don’t really have a surefire method for thinking up jokes but when I’m stuck one tactic is to write down as many aspects of the painting as I can, then focus on one of them. The blending together of the two figures, their different patterns merging imperceptibly, was the angle I stumped for. Once I hit upon the idea that the pattern of the Man and the Woman’s clothes was actually the pattern on a duvet (or blanket or doona), things quickly led to the above scenario. The humour is in the collision of idealised romantic love with the mundane bickering reality of a married couple. I had to use my imagination for this as my experience of marriage is of a blissful union of souls without the slightest hint of friction or disagreement.
As an aside, another artist who does this blending of different patterns really well is Edouard Vuillard. I sometimes play a mental game with myself of picking a year at random and deciding the best painting produced that year. Vuillard, with his lovely little domestic interiors, has the whole of the 1890s covered (this is harsh on Paul Gauguin, who also hit his brilliant best form in that decade). But when it comes to thinking up new patterns, Gustav Klimt is in a league of his own. He loves it. He has often been accused of horror vacui, the fear of blank space. Who cares? The artist Hundertwasser said something about being able to make a whole career from the pattern found in any inch of a Klimt. This inexhaustible pattern-making ability was combined, in Klimt, with jaw-dropping technical skills (just check his early work) and a terrific sense of composition, making it impossible, on a purely visual level, not to be bowled over by him.
First published in guardian.co.uk on 25th May 2011
At the moment my cartoons come out once a fortnight in the Guardian. However I try to write one blogpost per week. This is a dilemma that I have lately solved by writing on the subject of nothing every second week. Now though I will now dredge up an older cartoon for the in-between weeks and write about that. This is to keep you amused.
You probably won’t fully get this joke unless you know that Clement Greenberg was an extremely influential art critic and that he loudly proclaimed the work of Jackson Pollock to be the pinnacle of great contemporary art. Greenberg’s ideas on art and where it should be headed were pretty much gospel from the 1940s right into the 60s. It seems unimagineable that today someone could wield that kind of dogmatic influence on what artists should be doing. For a long time Abstract Expressionism was the only art style for any serious artist. It was very difficult to be taken seriously if you were a realist painter in those days, and you were particularly silly if you painted portraits. You might as well have been painting christmas cards. Fortunately, time and talented tough nuts like Lucian Freud and Alice Neel have done a lot to change that. I am very fond of this cartoon for a couple of reasons – I find it really funny and it was the eventual trigger for my career as an artoonist. As is my annoying wont, I was riffing out loud at work (an art gallery) one day about the name of an exhibition we had on at the time – Fabstraction. I was just imagining how it would go down if suggested as the name for a serious new art movement. This is what came out. I found it amusing and for once so did the other guys. I really liked the idea and thought I would have to use it one day – but how? I used to make short films but Ed Harris was apparently booked up for 18 months – I slammed the phone down in his ear. Eventually I drew it as a comic – my first. After a while I tried my hand at a few more art cartoons and the rest is history. This is the normal career path for an artoonist, which was spelt out in uncanny detail by my school’s Careers Guidance Counsellor many years before. Actually, my 15 minute Careers Guidance session at school went something like this:
“What do you want to do?”
“What subjects do you like?”
“I like Art…”
“You could be an Artist.”
“I like History…”
“You could be an Historian”
“You could be a Geographer”
“You could be an Englishman”
It was worse than useless, although I guess I’ve had a stab at the last one.
By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with an unserious name for an art movement. Look how successful PLOP art was!
First published in The Guardian online 18 September 2013
If you were commissioned to paint “God creating Adam” how would you do it? A particularly brilliant solution is Michelangelo’s idea of the pointing index fingers, a split second before life is zapped into Adam (I guess it’s a split second; it all depends on how fast God’s traveling). It’s such a clear, striking image, conveying everything that needs to be said. Michelangelo would have been so good in advertising. What a missed opportunity for humanity.
Thinking about the spark of life led to this cartoon on static electricity. I guess the humour resides in the Almighty revelling in childish pranks. But I think creativity is, at its essence, about fun. And God was quite creative. So I reckon this kind of thing would have happened all the time. Those serious types who wrote the Bible were quite dismissive and contemptuous of this side of God’s personality, so they left it out. It reminds me of something Picasso once said; annoyed by the very solemn, grave attitude toward art of some Germans visiting his studio, Picasso told them “I like to laugh”.
Apologies for being a bit quiet of late. I have just moved house, which has been, as always, intensely stressful and exhausting. However I have gleaned a nugget of wisdom from the process, which I hope will help you in your life – Stay Put.