Thursday, May 10, 2007

London's political cartoon gallery

by Stella Moutafis

POLITICS – it is a part of life that can be depressing - but can also be amusing. Humour is something humans are hard-wired for - and politicians are generally seen as fair game!
This is often expressed in the form of cartoons - and these can also be a vehicle of political comment. The work of political cartoonists, past and present, offers us insights into popular feeling about individuals and events in the news.
In London we are fortunate in having a gallery dedicated to this artform/political commentary. The Political Cartoon Gallery claims that it’s the world’s only centre dedicated to political cartoons and caricature and it hosts exhibitions and offers original cartoons and related merchandise for sale.
The work of Jimmy Friell (1912 -1997) has recently been the subject of an impressive exhibition here – an exhibition inspired – we are told – by a recent description of Gordon Brown as being of Stalinist ruthlessness.
And Friell was the in-house cartoonist for the Daily Worker for 20 years, joining the paper’s staff in 1936.
He worked under the pseudonym “Gabriel”, which he chose because he wished to ‘herald the end of capitalism”. It seems a bit dubious for a socialist to characterize himself on the basis of a Biblical reference. But to use another Biblical reference Friell “fell by the wayside” when in 1956, he resigned from the paper due to his opposition to its line on the Soviet intervention in Hungary that year!
Unfortunately, that exhibition is over. But it is well worth while considering a visit to see the vast array of cartoons on display and to check out for future events. The displays cover two floors and the gallery has it’s own café and well as a shop that offers a range of stock that is probably unique.
There is a selection of books with compilations of the work of various leading cartoonists. Of particular interest is a book published by the gallery itself: Do Cowards Flinch, a cartoon history of the Labour Party byAlan Mumford with a foreword by Neil Kinnock no less which will set you back £19.99 for the hard-back edition.
On a lighter note, along with the predictable mugs and postcards there are bound copies of such highly-esteemed periodicals as Viz and the Beano!
Our heritage of political cartoons over the years is to be cherished and hopefully, one day the New Worker’s own “Boxer” will be duly celebrated!

The Political Cartoon Gallery is at 32 Store Street London WC1E 7BS and it’s open from 9.30 - 5.30 pm Monday to Friday and 11.30 - 5.30pm Saturday. Admission is £1 which you get back if you buy something.

photo:a Gabriel cartoon from 1953 -- how did he feel about it after 1956?