Friday, March 13, 2009

One comic-related show in Charlottesville. Oliphant.

I forgot to tell you about this. While we were in Charlottesville, we also had the opportunity to check on the travelling “Leadership: Oliphant cartoons and sculpture from the Bush Years” show, held at the University of Virginia Art Museum. Although it had a handful of older work too, comprising cartoons, rough sketches next to the final work, most of it were really cartoons related to the Bush Administration years. Pat Oliphant is one of the most interesting political cartoonist of the United States. I have to confess that I failed to understand something like 40% of the jokes, given the fact they were always very local, despite my familiarity with some of his work (and other contemporary American cartoonists). For instances, not knowing who Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was or with kind of shenanigans he was involved did not help to understand a few of the exhibited cartoons, but a quick explanation put me into the joke.
Oliphant is a real master: he takes a no prisoners, no holds barred attitude towards every single politician one can think of, and sometimes their figuration is very strong (Bush as a wide-eyed kid, with cowboy hat and all, Rice as a parrot, etc.). this lead to an interesting discussion with some people we met. I said that I though that one can not think of a single honest politician (actually I think that that adjective is incompatible with that noun), but some folks guaranteed me that they do exist. Vice-President Biden is one of them, I was told. I'll try to learn and follow if this is really a possibility. However, Oliphant's work will nott help me in this, and all the better for it. Moreover, as the great masters of social commentary and political critique via caricature and cartoon (practically the same), Oliphant makes good use of the caption, the title, the sentence. More often than not, text in Oliphant's cartoons is not redundant, but a confirmation and a true “punch line” of that which was brought by the image.
In this sense, Oliphant is an inheritor of old masters of political cartoonism/journalism such as Gillray, Rowlandson, Cruikshank, Daumier... So it comes as no big surprise, but a surprise nonetheless, that the Museum held a complementary, smaller exhibition, entitled: “With the Line of Daumier”, showing litographs and drawings by Daumier himself (the one I'm including here was on the show, a caricature of France and Britain goading the Portuguese rival king brothers against each other like dogs, a comment on our own Civil War), and a handful of other French, British and American artists. Daumier, it seems, was a major direct influence on Oliphant, and that is very clear less in the figurative strategies than in the composition of the cartoon, especially the ones which shows throngs of people. His use of allegorical figures, from talking animals to branded objects to monsters (the headless hulk standing for the Bush electorates, which were many) makes me think also of Thomas Nast. I am thinking of lions and tigers, mostly, in Roman-like arenas, to represent a particular strong and complicated bout of political and economical power, but also on the recreation of politicians as other known characters such as Emperors, theatrical personages, a common staple in this sort of work. In any case, both shows highlight the way how Oliphant is in the continuation of the modern cartoon, steeped into real world politics.
I am not very certain here, but one of the things I liked the most in this show was the fact that Oliphant seems not to have no qualms in attacking both Republicans and Democrats (and everyone else, for that matter), whether they're little or small (Presidents are constant victims). Despite these jokes on the Presidents, the story of Ford allowing him to draw on his head the customary band aid is really cool, as well as the last Reagan cartoon (“The last goodbye”, 2004)... they make me wonder if, in the end, Oliphant doesn't keep a little ounce of respect for these guys. Someone was at the artist's talk at the Museum, and they told me tht he drew, while talking to the audience, a preposterous cartoon of a naked Palin and a moose (don't ask me for details, I really wanted to see this, but it was just impossible!). So his acrid, corriding verve is still on. Obama does not escape him either, and I'm glad there's people like this cartoonist who does not go all goo-gaga, and still thinks that if it's a politician, then there's always fodder for satirical attack.... More power to him! (we couldn't take pictures, so these images were ripped off of the internet)

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