Drawing Conclusions: The Political Art of Michael de Adder
It is human nature to make fun or complain about those in power. And that is why political cartoonists exist. It’s a hard way to make a living, however, and when you are successful, you make enemies. The job can be dangerous, and even downright deadly, as the 2015 attacks at Charlie Hebdo proved.
Michael de Adder is one of Canada’s foremost cartoonists, part of a long history of political cartooning that began in ancient Egypt and Rome. Born in Moncton, de Adder had the good fortune to take art classes from a talented teacher at Riverview High School who steered him toward a fine art degree at Mount Allison University. It was there that his talent for caricature and stinging wit were revealed in early cartoons for The Argosy, the student newspaper.
The invention of the printing press and the wide distribution of newspapers gave life to the political or editorial cartoonist. Before photographs could be reproduced, papers relied on illustrators to give readers a visual impression of news events. William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an early British practitioner who used the new technology for political ends while the caricaturist James Gillray (1757-1815) developed the character John Bull, who became a symbol of Britain.
In 18th and 19th century France, political cartoonists laboured under draconian censorship laws, but managed to publish hard-hitting satire nevertheless. The weekly journal, La Caricature, for example, often found itself on the wrong side of the law. The government shut it down several times and its editor was even thrown in jail for a year.
Controversy goes hand-in-hand with being an editorial cartoonist and de Adder has had his share of stirring up the pot. His 2007 cartoon of Jerry Falwell arriving in Hell and the devil exclaiming ‘Surprise!’ is one example. His famous cartoon on the election of Pope Benedict XVI remained unpublished because the Catholic editor of the Halifax Daily News deemed it too controversial. But the cartoon lived on regardless and triumphed in 2006 when it won the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists Golden Spike Award for the best cartoon killed by an editor.
The introduction of printing technology and the availability of newspapers made political cartooning possible. Now, technology is changing the landscape again.
Radio, television, and the Internet have become the major sources of news for many people. As a result, newspapers are failing all over the world. As fewer people sit down each morning with a coffee and the newspaper, what does this mean for editorial cartoonists like Michael de Adder who continue to raise important questions about our society?This retrospective survey of Michael de Adder’s art is curated by Virgil Hammock and organized by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. The exhibition and accompanying publication were made possible through the valued support of the Province of New Brunswick and the City of Fredericton, as well as of the Scotiabank Artist Residency Program and Bounty Print Ltd., to all of whom we are sincerely grateful.