Friday, June 18, 2010

Gerald Scarfe; Political Cartoonist Telegraph article

The 74-year-old cartoonist discusses his early work, his childhood hero and pushing boundaries in China. 

By Jessica Salter Published: 17 Jun 2010

Gerald Scarfe at home in west London Photo: Jane Wilson

Gerald Scarfe, CBE, 74, is a political cartoonist who started drawing for Punch and Private Eye and is now best known for his work in the New Yorker, Time and the Sunday Times, which he has worked for since 1967. Scarfe has also branched out into animation (Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Disney’s Hercules) and set design, including an English National Ballet production of The Nutcracker. To mark the World Cup, Scarfe has designed a limited-edition football-themed HD box for Sky ( He lives with his wife, the actress Jane Asher, and their youngest son, Rory, in west London.
Early start As I get older I seem to be sleeping less and less, but since my studio is just a flight of stairs away from my bedroom I can come up here at 4am if I want to, which I frequently do. I have a cup of tea, skim through the newspapers and make my wife tea when she wakes up.
Scared child I feel I lost the first 15 years of my life because I was bedridden and often taken to hospital with severe asthma. I was a very scared child, aware of the fine line between life and death; my parents always thought I was going to peg out. I’ve got this horrific memory of being in hospital and this man opening the window and gasping for air – he just fell on the floor and died. My drawings were always about my fears, and they still are. It used to be all about witches and werewolves; now it’s about arrogant politicians.
Political future When I left home I lived on the top floor of a house in Hampstead, and Ralph Miliband, a well-known Marxist theorist, and his wife, Marion, lived downstairs. His sons, David and Ed, were probably conceived while I was up in the attic.
Early influence The cartoonist Ronald Searle was someone I looked up to hugely when I was younger. I found out where he lived in Bayswater and I used to cycle down from Hampstead planning in my mind what I would say to him, which was to ask how to become a cartoonist. But when I got there I could never make my finger physically touch the doorbell, such was my awe of this man. So I would turn my bike around and cycle home.
Best present Five years ago my wife arranged a birthday lunch for me in Provence. To my enormous surprise Ronald Searle and his wife were sitting at the table: it was the first time I’d met him. There was a little package from him on my place setting, and in it was this doorbell (pictured) with the note, 'Please ring – any time.’
Early cartoons I got a job at Punch by sending in cartoons. For each one they paid me seven guineas, an incredible sum, but the cartoons themselves were pretty corny. It wasn’t until Private Eye started in the 1960s that I felt I had a purpose and I could say something about the world around me.
Pushing boundaries I’ve always felt that as an artist I must draw everything about life, and sex is a huge part of life. I can usually get away with quite a lot in a book – more than a newspaper – but in a book that was printed in China they wouldn’t print my drawings of men with large willies. When I asked them why, they just said, 'Too big.’ So I said, 'Well that’s what we’re all like in Britain.’
Tools of the trade I put enormous pressure on the nibs of my pens (pictured), and they can snap. The Higgins black ink that I use is very expensive, about £5.25 for a tiny bottle, so I have to turn it all into spun gold.
Animation I first worked with Pink Floyd in 1973, creating graphics and animation for their Wish You Were Here tour videos. I then spent five years working on The Wall: first it was the album and the set for the live shows, then we did a film in 1982. I’ve got a lot of memorabilia (pictured previous page) because the whole thing was designed in this house – I’ve lived here for 40 years.
Disney In 1994 the directors of Hercules called me out of the blue asking if I’d like to be the production designer for the film. I designed the characters, but it was hard dealing with the animators. A lot of them were not capable of copying my style; they just did the same old Disney thing.
Still life I didn’t want Pegasus to be the usual Disney dobbin; I wanted him to be an elegant Greek horse. I modelled him on this horse’s head (pictured), which is a replica of one of the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum. It’s made from resin and the museum was selling it in its shop – it was quite expensive, but I pointed out that it was cracked and did a deal; I got it for about £200.
Political knives I was on The Andrew Marr Show in 2005 when David Cameron and David Davis were running for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Marr asked me to draw a cartoon of them for the end of the show. I drew them all buddy-buddy as they were on the programme, with their arms around one another – but I drew a version of them from behind, too, in which they held knives, ready to stab each other in the back. Cameron asked for the drawing afterwards and he wrote me this letter (pictured), thanking me for it.
Working late In my youth I used to be able to work right through the night, but I can’t do that now – I stop at about 8.30pm, when I have a glass of wine and my dinner. It’s usually a long day, about 14 hours, but I take little naps. And anyway I’m never happier than when I am in my studio.


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