5.0 out of 5 stars
Satire With a Forgiving Touch, 14 Dec 2009
In the Labour Movement there are copious "key performance indicators". Membership growth, membership density, council's under Labour control, parliamentary majorities and so on. But what are the real vital signs for a healthy labour movement? Are we flat lining or are we a picture of health?
From a personal perspective the movement must bring power to the dispossessed - tackle the alienation arising from the worker's given role us a dispensable cog in the capitalist machine. But the movement is at its most impressive when it goes on to transcend political and industrial relations and become a community or culture within which our struggles and achievements are celebrated in theatre, visual arts and song.
Against that background, and at a time when trade union culture seems to be in decline, "Hung Drawn and Quartered - the Caricatures of Ken Gill", is an exceptional collection.
The most striking feature of the book is the artistic quality of the work. And make no mistake, this is not a study in representational art - these are authentic caricatures. Although the comic distortion of the facial features weakens the link with the physical reality of the subject the craft of the cartoonist brings you far closer to their true personality. As a struggling artist I can speak for the fact that this is no mean feat!
These portraits have a life of their own. Trade unionists appear to have been drawn through the aperture of comradeship - visual observation infused with knowledge and insight. Some friendship and doubtless some frustration. Common struggle, occasional division; and, perhaps an hour or two of shared committee room boredom. All these dynamics are captured and displayed within the pages of a remarkable book.
To follow Steve Bell is to know that pubic figures can be Folletted, valetted and Photoshopped within an inch of their life but the desired effect can be destroyed in an instant by the stroke of a cartoonist's pen. Victims include Thatcher, Blair, Major and Bush. Ken's pictures have a slightly different satirical quality and the commentary in the book reports that the people portrayed in Ken's drawings were often keen to have them. One wonders whether Steve Bell gets similar requests from Bush and Blair? Under Ken's gaze hideous Tories and renowned class traitors have all benefited to a degree from a pen that seems to have a forgiving touch.
One can't help but be impressed by the technique in the drawings but that is just one source of the power in the book. It offers an insight into leading political and industrial figures of the last fifty years and, in equal measure, to Ken himself. I recommend it without hesitation and hope you also see within it the humanity, talent and insight that made Ken such a talented leader within a creative trade union movement.