Monthly Archives: January 2014

It’s been a while since I visited a museum on the list, so I was glad when Wist suggested we tackle one this weekend.

We chose the Cartoon Museum, just off of Museum Street.
The museum itself is dwarfed by the British Museum behind – but what it lacks in size it doesn’t lack in spirit.

On the ground floor, you can learn a little about the history of cartooning.

Caricature developed in Italy (Italian ‘caricare’ means to load, or exaggerate) and was spread to UK polite circles by young gents that had picked up their technique when on their grand tours.

William Hogarth had little time for caricature – regarding it a ‘foreign art’. He created a new form of picture story – and is widely regarded as the first comic artist.
Amateur artists Townshend, Bunbury, Woodward and Nixon transformed the art further – introducing a lighter, more playful tone. James Gillray perfected the art – becoming known for his power of imagination and cultural commentary.

I thought this cartoon (etched by an anonymous individual) was interesting – commenting on the belief that the English were a particularly suicidal nation, due to the gloominess of the English climate and the melancholy of the national character.

The first half of the twentieth century saw the heyday of the popular magazine, and cartoons sat centre-stage amongst many of these. William Heath Robinson was one such cartoonist who entertained the Great British public through two world wars, with his intricate cartoon contraptions (pre-dating Rube Goldberg machines in America.)

Henry Mayo Batemen was the first British cartoonist to draw with a dynamic and expressive line, that many found funny even without the caption. Here’s one:

Joke cartoons continued to appear in magazines and newspapers throughout the twentieth century.
Carl Giles work was one such success story in this genre, famed for creating the Giles family.

In the 1960s and onward, Britain began to leave behind the deference and social conformity that had dominated society during the world wars. Edgier cartoon satire began to appear, of which the most notable was Private Eye in 1961.
Artists including Ralph Steadman and Gerald Scarfe voiced their own discontent through angry, violent drawings.

The 2009 Ralph Steadman above is called “The Tea Lady – Working Drawing for a statue to be erected next to Churchill in Parliament Square”

For such a small museum, the quantity of beautiful cartoons really is quite astounding.

It was great to see the original sketchbooks of Simon Tofield, who created ‘Simon’s Cat’.

Upstairs, fun facts and layouts of modern comics were shared.
We learnt that Korky the Cat was the staple feature of the Dandy front page, until 1984 when Desperate Dan forced him off of the top spot.
And that in certain editions of the Beano, there are strong similarities between the Bash Street Kids Teacher and his wife. Note the tash.
As ever, it was great to notice the artists own notes on their artwork.
I find artist’s drafts and work-in-progress layouts fascinating.
Roger the Dodger was a cartoon character I’d completely forgotten about.
His debut in 1953 started with the rhyming couplet: ‘Here comes Roger! Always scheming! You will never catch him dreaming.”
The museum is a whirlwind of nostalgia. If you’ve every read comics (as a child, or an adult) its worth popping down for a visit. It’s £7 a ticket, which felt fairly steep considering the size of the place, but niche museums like this don’t get an awful lot of funding so I guess it’s understandable.

#1. The wholesome comic ‘Boys’ Own Paper’ (which featured tales of sporting prowess and imperial adventure) was introduced after fears that the dark and lurid ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ would have negative effects on impressionable young adults.
#2. Precursors to The Dandy (1937) and The Beano (1938) launched by DC Thompson included The Wizard (1927), The Rover (1929) and The Hotspur (1937)
#3. Christian groups, fearful of the influence of American horror comics imported into the UK, decided to launch their own comic book in response. ‘Eagle’ subsequently raised the bar for the entire British comic genre.
#4. Bryan Talbot introduced what is regarded as the first British graphic novel in 1977 (surprisingly late!)
#5. The original name of the cartoon strip ‘The Bash Street Kids’ was ‘When the bell rings’ but was changed two years after launch.

1. Cartoon Museum 
2. Churchill War Rooms 
3. Cinema Museum 
4. Dennis Sever’s House 
5. Dr Johnson’s house 
6. Design Museum 
7. Down House 
8. The Geffrye Museum 
9. London Film Museum 
10. London Transport Museum 
11. Mansion House 
12. Brunel Museum 
13. Museum of the Order of St John 
14. Musical Museum 
15. Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret
16. Pollock’s Toy Museum 
17. Rose Theatre exhibition 
18. Fashion and Textile Museum 
19. Royal College of Music Archives and Museum of Instruments 
20. Sherlock Holmes Museum 
21. Twinings Museum 
22. V&A Museum of Childhood 
23. Bank of England museum 
24. The Stephens Museum 

I’ve already ticked the Design museum off of my 24 museums list, but I was so impressed last time, that I bought a membership. So I’m afraid a Design museum write-up might end up a regular feature.

They’ve changed over the main exhibition since the last time we visited – it’s now a Paul Smith retrospective called ‘Hello my name is Paul Smith’
The exhibition is great. Really great.
It covers Paul’s life and design philosophy – from school to present day.
Paul left school at age fifteen, with the dream of being a cyclist.
After a serious road accident, he started to take his job at the clothing warehouse a little more seriously.
After conversations in the hospital with city’s art school students, he decided to manage a boutique.
With encouragement from his wife Pauline (!), he opened his own tiny shop on a backstreet in Nottingham in 1970.
The shop was 3×3 metres square, with no windows. Essentially a big cupboard.
The next exhibition room shared a small part of Paul’s art collection.
Paul writes that his collection at home includes Warhol, Hockney and Banksy, but also works which have been sent by friends, family and ‘unknown enthusiasts’ since the 1990s.
The collection is beautiful – I’m sure you could spend hours in this one room and not get bored.
A theme that emerges again and again throughout the exhibition is the notion that ideas can come from anywhere.
Paul keeps track of the countless images and ideas that come into his head with a digital camera and a notebook, that he fills with sketches, words and telephone numbers.
In Pauls words: “Everyone looks, but not everyone sees.”
There’s a reconstruction of Paul’s Covent Garden office – which is cluttered with lots of objects – testament to his philosophy of jumble inspiration.
“The only tidy surface in my office is a huge rosewood table that is always empty. The rest of my office is a madhouse – there are books, bicycles, cameras, rabbits, robots, kitsch things, letters, bills, and bits and bobs from all over the place.”
In the next space along, there was a layout of Paul’s first ever show room, in a Paris hotel.
It was drawn out in cartoony, inked style – I loved it.
There was also a reproduction of the Covent Garden design studio.
Paul, again, talks about the huge quantity of references that are used to form new ideas.
Again, it shows.
Paul’s signature stripes were (obviously) on show here too.
They develop their stripes by winding coloured yarn around cardboard.
This lets them see how the colours are working together, and how the balance of the stripe will work on a garment.
For some reason, I was really drawn to this invitation for a fashion show.
It’s handwritten, photocopied onto luminous orange – and it looked cool as f***.
Talking on his approach to fashion – Paul said:
“My clothes are rooted in tradition and express modernity. Classic with a twist. I like my clothes to hold a secret – a sober grey suit with a brightly coloured lining, ties with unexpected linings.”
“My stripes have been popular because they are colourful – colour makes people happy. If used in the right way, colour can add interest and express positivity. Colour has been added to classic garments in the forms of linings, or simply punctuation marks.”
“My designs often draw on very British traditions and motifs. Past collections have referenced, for example, the British postage stamp, rock’n’roll, the Women’s Land army, British poets, artists and eccentrics, and much, much, more.”
Top stuff from Paul Smith & the Design Museum.
If you have a spare afternoon before it ends, take the time to visit – you won’t regret it.