Today we went to the Frye Art Museum, which devotes itself to figurative art, by and large. It has an interesting collection of non-modernist works up roughly through the turn of the nineteenth century. Viv and I go fairly frequently; I’d say about once every six months. The rotating exhibitions there often feature cartoonists, as with the one up currently featuring the Pulitzer-winning long-time Seattle P-I cartoonist David Horsey.
The museum was also featuring a show revisiting a selection of works drawn from a number of exhibitions over the past few years.
Horsey may be the most accomplished draftsman working in editorial cartooning today, and it’s a pleasure to see his brushwork on paper. His politcal cartoons don’t generally wow me with their incisive analysis, but sometimes they do make me laugh. I don’t really hold him responsible for what I see as the often-facile nature of his satire; appealing to the sensibility of the majority of his paper’s subscribers is a part of his job, after all. Also, Some mention must be made of the fact that he does work for a Hearst paper.
It appears that they have begun to offer him some leeway in the wake of his multiple Pulitzers, however. Similarly, Hearst has allowed, or possibly encouraged, the P-I to take on the role of a persistent critic here in Puget Sound toward both the foibles of local government (Sound Transit) and national (the Iraq war). I don’t doubt my grandpa, a lifetime P-I subscriber from the dry side, would be troubled by this evolution of his paper, but I’m all for it.
Looking at Horsey’s cartoons, which cover roughly the last quarter century, one can trace an evolution in both his line and the politics expressed. I don’t view it as accidental that his 1980 cartoon ‘Liberalism’ has been signed not only with the artists’ name but also with the icthus, the symbolic fish used of late by evangelical Christians to signify shared values. The cartoon depicts a troupe of black-suited Republican elephants carrying a coffin with the word of the title emblazoned on it. It’s classic Hearstian cartoon, worthy of the indignities cranked out by Winsor McCay as illustrations for Old Man Heart’s fulminations against such controversial subjects as Hunger and Poverty back in the day.
Turning to the funniest material on display, all concerning the departed President from Arkansas and the foibles and follies of his era, the fish has – if you’ll pardon my putting it this way – gone for a walk. Nearby, a drawing of the Pope in his popemobile is captioned ‘Pope embraces evolution,’ a reference to a Vatican pronouncement on the subject. On the popemobile’s rear panel is the Puget Sound area’s response to the use of the icthus on autos, the Darwin fish.
Now, I doubt that Horsey’s renounced his faith. But it seems clear that the later cartooning is much less polemic and more observational in nature, and this is what lends the Clinton-era material its’ punch. In one, we see a two-panel, stacked layout. The caption is something like (sorry, didn’t take notes, as I had no idea I was going to go on and on about this) “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” The caption is presented as a quote (probably from Karl Marx). The top panel depicts Richard Nixon and a prosecutorial figure in togas, as Nixon hands over his laurel wreath. The panel beneath? Two clowns in full regalia are engaged in a pursuit. The greasepainted faces belong to (if I recall correctly) Ken Starr and Bill Clinton.
Recently Horsey has been quite merciless in his depictions of President Bush as would-be Caesar, images which are so strikingly out of place in the traditional canon of Hearst editorial cartooning that one fully expects him to be fired every day. However, the peculiar niche that the P-I has carved out for itself appears to provide sufficient shelter. Will David Horsey one day go on to provide the nation itself with images that reach beyond political commentary, analysis and humor as Bill Mauldin’s work and Herblock’s work have done? It’s hard to say. But he does appear to be an artist who is continuing to grow, and one supposes that as he does so his increasing depth of reference and observation will lend him the opportunity to craft an image so succinct and poetic that it sums up the zeitgeist of the moment.
In other news, there was a guy at the museum who looked and sounded just like a twenty-seven year old Ken Goldstein, with darker hair and more of it. He wore squared-off, narrow, dark-framed hipster glasses and at one point I noticed him speaking familiarly with some quite arty looking folks in the cafe, so I surmise he’s involved in the art scene here. He was wearing black and carrying a single-shoulder-strap military satchel. I had initially dismissed Viv’s observation that he looked like Ken, when he walked by speaking to a friend, and my friends, he sounded like him too.
I went up to him in one of the galleries and asked him if he knew Ken, and he did not. I thought about giving him a “Ken Goldstein has a posse” sticker, on the assumption that he probably knew the work of Shepard Fairey, but did not. I did not ask his name.