Gerald Scarfe: Drawing inspiration
Gerald Scarfe, Political Cartoonist and a Stage Designer and Animator
My name is Gerald Scarfe and I’m a political cartoonist and a stage designer and animator, anything really to do with the graphic arts I’ve tried to achieve. I suppose my first break into being a cartoonist was selling a cartoon to “Punch” and they accepted it. Up until then I’d been working in a commercial art studio, which I absolutely hated. It seemed to me that the important thing about being in artist was to tell the truth, and not to falsify the world. If anything, an artist should bring new information about the world. So I edged away from advertising into cartoons but I didn’t quite know how to make a living out of it until a magazine called “Private Eye” started in the ‘60s an they gave me the opportunity to draw what I liked; and they encouraged me to caricature and that’s when it really began then.
I think I first discovered the V&A when I was about 17 or 18, maybe, as late as that. When I went for art classes there, we used to go once a week, with the London School of Printing. We used to draw on the spot, and that was a very good discipline.
In the later years, of course, I went there many times for information. I especially found it useful when I was designing a show or something like that. If there were 18th century costumes in the show then I could go to the V&A and go to the costume court there take sketches on the spot of any kind of costume that I wanted to. It’s up to me to make them look my sort of costume rather than the V&A costume or the cosume of the period. There came a point when I was asked to design the Nutcracker for the international ballet and I didn’t want to do the same old po-faced costumes, I wanted give it a fresh and new look. I love colour in productions; I love to put colour on stage.
Of course this all goes back to the V&A where I used to walk around there, get all these ideas together. An artist is like a computer, in many ways. All these things go into this…whatever this is up here. And hopefully one can access them later and they come out, without even knowing, through the panel and paper.
Well I take a lot of my inspiration from the V&A, of course. One of the most exciting pieces, I remember, I used to walk through there is this man being savaged by a tiger, it really struck my imagination. Maybe the ferocity of that particular piece has affected me no doubt. It was in the same vein of my work. It’s very difficult to say because I saw this Tippoo’s tiger, I then did this costume. There are occasions when I’ve taken things from the museum like the V&A and the next thing you know, my work will be on show there. It’s almost like a circular thing, the ideas that I picked up are produced on the paper then appear in their own writing in the gallery.
One of the great things about the V&A is it’s like an antique shop. I think anybody, if they went in there, child or man, would find something, something, in some corner, which would be fascinating.
The distinguished British illustrator and cartoonist draws us a picture...