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BBC Onepolitics show


Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 16:32 GMT
An interview with Gerald Scarfe...

Gerald Scarfe
At the moment in Bush and Blair, I've got two wonderful villains who I've been sort of bashing, not that cartoons make any difference
Gerald Scarfe

Gerald Scarfe was born in 1936 in St John's Wood, London. The son of a banker and a schoolteacher mother, he was plagued with chronic Asthma from an early age.

He spent a great deal of time in bed at home and in hospital and had few friends - visiting a sick child was not in the top ten of things to do for a youngster in early days.

However, it was this isolation that allowed him to concentrate on his creative abilities that were to turn to genius.

"I'd make plasticine models, read and above all - draw and I was a very frightened child, an anxious child because I had chronic asthma and drawing became my way, even in those early days, of putting my fears on paper," he recalls.

And today, those anxieties are not far away: "I get very pent up if I don't work - it's almost therapeutic to me with a pen and to put it all down on paper."


"My inspirations I suppose, going back to the very beginning were Walt Disney, I very much admired Walt Disney as a child, and then Ronald Searle¿

"Ronald Searle I thought was terrific. In the 50s he was "the" king of all and then when I began to draw in Private Eye, people began to say: 'You're like Hogarth', 'you're like Gillray, Cruikshank'. I had no idea who these people were, being ill-educated¿

"I then went and looked at Hogarth and although I didn't in any way draw a comparison, I could see there was a duality of purpose - I could see he was after putting down society around him and politics around him - putting down the world around him and very much doing what I was doing as a child," he says.

For Gerald today, Inspiration comes from many sources and the world of art comes in an endless supply.

"I have a huge art library¿ I can go and find Goya, Reubens, Rembrandt¿ the idea that someone else has been doing this weird job and has been making a success of it is and inspiration for me.

"It's such a lonely job, such a strange lonely job that its nice to know that other people have done it as well and are doing it and are well recognised for doing it."

The Sunday Times years...

He has become part of the Sunday Times furniture over many years depicting not only political events of the past week, but trying to predict those that may be following publication.

"It's a bit like what an uncle of mine said - 'You're a bit like a vicar¿ you only work on a Sunday¿', I try and sum up what's happened during the week or better still try and project what might happen - but my week is spent doing all the other things I do.

"I do work in the theatre, opera designs, film designs, I work with rock groups like Pink Floyd¿ with Walt Disney - I designed their film Hercules, so I do lots of other things as well as political cartooning but because I started as a political cartoonist in Private Eye, I am best known for that in this country."

But those political cartoons with their no compromise messages are what he is renowned for.

That cutting edge...

Scarfe with his "Blair"

"All politicians are different in a way - some come as ready made caricatures, like John Prescott, or Ann Widdicombe - there's very little I can add to them and there are others like the up and coming David Milliband - I don't quite know what his face is like yet.

"I've got favourites - I've got some I hate more than others - in a way it's a bit like the villain in a pantomime - it's the villain you love to hate that produces the best work.

"And of course at the moment in Bush and Blair, I've got two wonderful villains who I've been sort of bashing, not that cartoons make any difference.

"I don't think cartoons in any way alter anything that happens in the world it's a rather sad thing to say¿ you could think that if millions of people marched round the streets of Britain or other countries to stop the Iraq war and nothing happened, you can imagine what little impact a little scribble in a newspaper will have.

"I think a cartoon can prove to be a sort of rallying point for people to gather around and say "I thought that," or "that's the way I feel," - that's the only use I can think for it¿"

Scarfe's Baker and Thatcher

"I like to not only get a likeness, but to put within that drawing something about the personality of that person and what they're doing which I consider to be wrong.

"For instance, Mrs Thatcher - she was always very good material because her character told me what she was - aggressive, sharp, cutting, acerbic and I could always draw her with this enormous pointed nose - probing nose.

"I could make her into an axe, into scissors, I could make her into anything sharp or aquiline, whereas if you take someone like John Major who followed - I couldn't possibly make him into an axe a knife or scissors - one does take the character of the caricature of the person themselves - you cannot make certain people into certain things - they tell you or they tell me what they must look like.

The coming years...

"I see my future in cartooning, and in all of my output, as being much the same - I've been very very privileged to do what I do as an asthmatic child without any promise at all - my parents thought I'd be reliant on them all my life - I find myself as being extremely lucky.

"I've been in the Sunday Times now for 40 years - I'm in a bit of a rut now, I think but I do a lot of theatrical work, I do a lot of film work, ballet work and opera work and books and exhibitions and so forth, so I'm very privileged really considering where I started.

"I would simply like to do more of the same really - I do like working on these big projects like an opera - the great thing working on something like a collaborative is that I can ask and talk to people about my work.

"Being an artist is a very lonely job, you sit alone in your studio and you put down what your thoughts are on paper - I can show them to my wife or my children although they are bored to tears by the whole thing now, but actually working on a film or a theatre project, you can go to a director or other people around you and say what do you think - it's a collaboration."

Just let us see more of that great collaboration Gerald...

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