Monday, 10 May 2010

WITH OFFENSIVE CANDOUR - Bulletin Artists in the Collection of the Auckland Art Gallery

The Auckland Art Gallery has a small, but very comprehensive, collection of original cartoons from The Bulletin, or by artists who found fame in its pages. The Bulletin was started in Sydney in 1880 by JF Archibald, who, during his 16 year tenure as editor was responsible for hiring some of the worlds best cartoonists. In the late 1880s The Bulletin was known as the Bushman’s Bible. It was read avidly by miners and saw millers throughout Australia and New Zealand, and was to become the authentic voice of the new colonial population, establishing the careers of writers and poets of the calibre of Banjo Patterson, Henry Lawson and Steele Rudd. From the beginning The Bulletin was as famous for its black and white art as it was for its political and social commentary.

In the era before photographic reproduction magazine illustration was left up to a dedicated group of black and white artists and cartoonists. Initially illustrated by art editor William Macleod and other home-grown talent, publisher WH Traill determined to get new blood into the publication and travelled to the United States where he hired Livingstone Hopkins in 1883, a Civil War veteran then working for New York humour magazines Puck and Judge. In England in 1886 he discovered the great cartoonist Phil May, who was at that time an unappreciated artist working for the St. Stevens Review. May agreed to travel halfway around the world for a three year contract at 20 pounds a week. These two artists revolutionized The Bulletin and inspired a whole new generation of home-grown cartoonists, such as Norman Lindsay, Will Dyson, David Low and Percy Leason. May is credited with bringing a more simplified style of drawing to cartooning, influencing black and white artists everywhere.

Norman Lindsay started his 50 year association with The Bulletin in 1901, on the recommendation of Julian Ashton, while David Low was hired as a teenager on the strength of work sent from New Zealand. Many of these artists went on to become world famous, with Phil May inheriting the mantle of Charles Keene at Punch and Will Dyson and David Low becoming the top political cartoonists on British newspapers from the 1920s through to the 1950s.

This article features some of the rare surviving original artwork from the collection of the Auckland Art Gallery, which includes work by New Zealand born artists David Low, Unk White and George Finey.

Rod MacLeod

Norman Lindsay 1879 – 1969
“The joke-block, to have permanence as art, must not only demonstrate technical excellence, but must reflect the life of its generation”

Once Bitten
Grinder (with offensive candour): ‘Now that there mower only chaws the grass. It wants sharpenin’.Why, yesterday, for two bob I sharpened the one they got next door.’
Old Poi: ‘Yes, I just borrowed it’.

Near Relations – A Study in Fowls
Lindsay delighted in showing the similarities between people and their animals. He also enjoyed endowing animals with human qualities as in his classic children's story The Magic Pudding with its koala bear character Bunyip Bluegum.

The Lost Fare

Lindsay had a great understanding of kids. He was unique in depicting children as entities with concerns of their own in his cartoons. He had a parallel career as a successful comic novelist, and one of his most popular books was Saturdee which dealt with the various adventures of young Australians at the beginning of the 20th century.

Livingstone Hopkins
1846 – 1917
This cartoon refers to Sir George Reid, the Scottish-born Australian politician who was Prime Minister in 1904 -5. He was also the Premier and Treasurer of NSW in the 1880s and helped with the draughting of the Commonwealth Constitution, even though his lack of enthusiasm for Federation confused voters and earned him the nick-name ‘Yes No Reid’. A large man with a walrus moustache, he was a popular subject for cartoonists of the day.

Frank P Mahony 1862 – 1917
Mahony’s work was regularly published in The Bulletins early years. As well as fine pen and ink drawing his speciality was a moody dark wash that reproduced well using the printing methods of the day.

Our demoralized black brother

Police Trooper: ‘Well Jacky! What have you been up to this time?’
Jacky: ‘Not much, boss. Only swearing like a plurry trooper.’

Rider: ‘How far is that township?’
Pat: ‘No distance. You could throw a stone to it.’
Mick: ‘Shure – yer couldn’t – nor two stones nather.’

When the work was published Mahony’s original words were changed editorially:

Stranger (on horseback on country road): ‘Is it far from the top of that hill to the township?’
Hennessy: ‘No sir, yer could throw a stone from there into the main street.’
Murphy (contradicting): ‘Indade yer couldn’t, Hinnessy, nor two stones.