Viewpoints

Prints that Poke Fun

 

1 Prints that Poke Fun

Not all art is serious – many printmakers have no difficulty poking fun at themselves, their practices and the world around them. This gallery provides a small sample of the sometimes esoteric humour found in prints. Biography Johanna Plant studied at the Alberta College of Art and Design, the University of Calgary and at University College London in England, specializing in art history. Her current area of interest is twentieth century Canadian prints.

2 Samurai and Mrs. Gainsborough

Samurai and Mrs. Gainsborough
Samurai and Mrs. Gainsborough,
Noboru Sawai

In this print, Sawai presents what may possibly be the most unlikely couple in the history of art history. On the left, Mrs. Gainsborough – derived from the famous 1750 work of Thomas Gainsborough, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews – sits calmly in a reserved and formal pose. Echoing her on the right is a samurai, also seated in a formal pose. The cultural gap between the two seems insurmountable, although copulating figures shown in the umbrella that floats above the couple perhaps hints at what lies beneath their conservative appearances.

3 Thump, Thump

Thump, Thump
Thump, Thump, ca. 1985
Rita McKeough

In this refreshing role reversal, McKeough casts a harmless looking rabbit in the role of a careless driver. The unfortunate victim of the rabbit’s late night drive appears to have been a feathered friend.

4 Mittenism

Mittenism
Mittenism,
Rita McKeough

Here an impassioned McKeough reads from her own Manifesto of Mittenism, a book written to encapsulate the beliefs of the Mittenists. Followers of Mittenism – mittens themselves – eagerly gather around their leader. McKeough uses humour derived from the sheer absurdity of living, animated mittens to comment upon the way in which some people will subscribe to extreme theories and beliefs, often without pause for reflection. She makes her point by mimicking real cult leaders while substituting their message with one that is entirely ridiculous.

5 Farm Venus

Farm Venus
Farm Venus, after 1940
Clifford Foard Robinson

The humour in this print comes from the unusual juxtaposition of unlikely characters. Two hearty Clydesdales linger by a pond in which a nude woman – a Venus – bathes. Her presence in an otherwise normal farm scene is made odd by both her nudity and the fact that she is in what must certainly be a cold and dirty pond. It is this combination of a typical Alberta farm from the middle of the twentieth century with a figure inspired by classical European statuary that brings a slightly puzzled smile to the viewer’s face.

6 Bobby and Marcel - Great Moments in Sport I

Bobby and Marcel - Great Moments in Sport I
Bobby and Marcel - Great Moments in Sport I,
John Will

French and American artist Marcel Duchamp has been quoted as saying, “All artists are not chess players but all chess players are artists.” Here the artist, who was also a highly skilled chess player, faces off against American chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer in an imagined tournament. Had the two met in real tournament, it would certainly have been, as Will suggests, a great moment in sport.

7 The Intaglio Goon Squad Storms the Bavarian Book Depository

The Intaglio Goon Squad Storms the Bavarian Book Depository
The Intaglio Goon Squad Storms the Bavarian Book Depository,
John Will

The Intaglio Goon Squad Storms the Bavarian Book Depository is a good example of humour that requires the viewer to have some background knowledge of the history of printmaking. In this image, an angry mob protests outside a Senefelder building. This building makes reference to Alois Senefelder (1771-1834), the man credited with the 1798 invention of lithography, a process originally designed as a method to cheaply produce sheet music. Fundamentally different from intaglio processes, debates have emerged in the contemporary art world over the merits of the different methods. Will mocks the silly conflicts that can emerge between printmakers who practice different techniques.

8 New Veau

New Veau
New Veau,
Joe Fafard

This image derives its humour from the title, a play on both French and English words. The young cow is new veau: pronounced phonetically, the calf is nouveau, or new, in French. Veau translates into English as either calf or veal; the animal is both.

9 The Lone Ranger (Ret.)

The Lone Ranger (Ret.)
The Lone Ranger (Ret.),
James Westergard

Fascinated with cartoon characters and superheroes as a child, in this print Westergard imagines what the Lone Ranger would look like at the time of his retirement. His wrinkled skin, rendered in exacting detail, is left with a nearly permanent tan from his mask.

10 Red Rountree

Red Rountree
Red Rountree,
James Westergard

Westergard is fascinated with odd and unusual characters such as Red Rountree. Believing a bank to be responsible for the loss of his personal fortune, Rountree committed his first heist at the age of 86. Arrested and convicted, he committed two more bank robberies, the last when he was 91. Possibly the oldest bank robber in America, in this image, a handcuffed Rountree attempts to intimidate the viewer with his “gun.”

11 Lawren S. Harris

Lawren S. Harris
Lawren S. Harris, no date
John (Jack) Wilson McLaren

Caricature was uncommon among Canadian printmakers throughout much of the twentieth century. One notable exception is in the work of Jack McLaren. Here he gently mocks his friend Lawren Harris, whom McLaren knew through Toronto’s Arts and Letters Club. Exaggerating the painter’s distinguished hair, McLaren pokes fun of this well-known member of the Group of Seven.