Having a laugh in Lockdown
Although there has not been a lot to smile about during ‘lockdown’, local artist, John Cunningham, has managed to bring his wry sense of humour into play during his daily walks around Hesketh Park. His astute commentaries on daily life are on now on display at the Spring Open exhibition at the ArtHouse gallery in Eastbank Street.
“During the 2020 national lockdowns, I often visited Hesketh Park for some healthy exercise. Watching the interaction of people at the park getting accustomed to new norms of behaviour got me started. I just developed scenes from whatever popped into my head, as a means of distracting, if not distancing, me from the grim reality of the pandemic. I used to amuse myself imaging an elderly couple, Ted and Mabel, dawdling around the lake and getting up to all sorts of mischief.”
Describing himself as an artistic ‘dabbler’, John moved to Southport in 1991 when the government department he worked for (the General Register Office) relocated out of London. Now retired, he decided to revisit his interest in caricature.
“When I retired and was looking for the obligatory hobby. I was fleetingly tempted to take up golf but remembering Mark Twain's comment that golf was ‘a good walk spoiled’ I opted for art.”
John was able to take up pen and ink again after interacting with local artists at Southport Contemporary Arts’ Friday Art class. SCA director, Norrie Beswick-Calvert originally set up the class “to enable those who feel they would like to find, or develop, their interest in creative practice.” She confirms: “Our ethos is to develop creative confidence and encourage exploration into a variety of media, whilst encouraging our students to follow their own areas of interest. In this way our classes develop a cohort of students that realise their own aspirations, not a 'house' style’."
Like most creative artists, John has had to find his own way to deal with the restrictions of working in isolation: “Lockdown has been difficult to get through. It didn't take long for the novelty to get weird and wearisome. Ted and Mabel were intended as a playful and optimistic creation, but the cartoons were a makeshift resource to the more general doom and gloom.”
However, the stimulus of his routine exercise helped to spark his creative imagination: “I'd note down ideas (before I forgot them) and photograph some backdrops as an aide-memoire, but didn't do much sketching in the park (not sure that would have been allowed within the rules of outdoor exercising). That was sufficient for me to work on the cartoons back home.”
John prefers the dry media of pen or pencil to capture his ideas on paper. Following in the footsteps of ‘Matt’ in The Telegraph and Reg Smythe’s iconic ‘Andy Capp’ in the Daily Mirror, John’s snapshots cock a knowing wink at contemporary life in these troubled times – as a certain Starship officer once confirmed: “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it”.
You can catch up with Jim’s cartoons at the ArtHouse, 65 Eastbank Street, Southport PR8 1EJ Tues-Fri: 10am-3pm/Sat: 11am-4pm
at Ludwigkirchstrasse 11
Thursday 29 April 2021 at 12:00h
at Weserstr. 56
Thursday 15 April 2021 at 16:00h
at Niederkirchnerstraße 7
Friday 23 April 2021 at 10:00h
Wednesday 12 May 2021 at 19:00h
at Turmstr. 75
Wednesday 12 May 2021 at 19:00h