Others on Scarfe

Waldemar Januszczak in The Guardian

Gerald Scarfe finds himself with what amounts to a licence to savage anything that moves in public circles.

Sandy Nairne, Director National Portrait Gallery

Gerald Scarfe has remained ebullient, sharp and brilliant by turns – a Cruikshank for our time.

George Melly

Gerald Scarfe, who always draws himself as a Catherine-wheel eyed, beetle-browed manic demonic with a sword-like ink-spattering pen, is in reality a quiet, well-mannered, almost excessively handsome man. Inside his head, however, his self-image certainly exists. How else to explain over forty years of graphic and sculptural ferocity unequalled since Gillray, and a metaphorical disgust for the grosser aspects of humanity which form a pictorial equivalent to the inspired nausea of Dean Swift?”

“Even so, Scarfe’s creative anger is always put to use. His target is in the broadest sense political. Greed, hypocrisy, cruelty, power and exploitation are what trigger off his formidable imagination. He is an anarchist with a particular hatred for the political animal and for those authorities who are its toadies and lick-spittles. He has never compromised.  He is also a brilliant technician, his straight reportage is impeccable, and his tender but unsentimental drawings of the world’s victims have demonstrated that he is not a simple nihilist, but an idealist whose frustration at how we never seem to learn anything has embittered to the point of near despair. Yet this is combined with complete professionalism and considerable courage.”

“He has visited every trouble-spot, sketch-book at the ready. He has wangled himself into the presence of the well-guarded and paranoid leaders of the world and drawn them with their pants down. For those future historians who wish to understand the horror of this troubled century, to bypass the official version of events, a study of Scarfe’s work will prove invaluable. At times distorting his subjects’  features to the point of incoherence, dragging out their brains, heart and entrails to demonstrate their corruption of spirit, he brings to mind that statement of the young and ardent Salvador Dali: “The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad”.”

“Because he is a cartoonist, one who draws for the reproduction and frequently seeks his inspiration in a temporal event, Scarfe has seldom been taken seriously by the art critics (John Berger is one of the handful of perceptive exceptions). This is a serious injustice which I believe history will set right. After all, to have invented a unique style to express an inner vision, however disturbing, is what a great deal of art is about. He is in the company of Picasso and Francis Bacon. Daumier and Goya were his forerunners. If the definition of genius is to alter, to whatever degree, our perception of reality, Scarfe is a genius.”

“He has always been restless. He has been involved in drawing, lithography, designing opera sets and costumes, making flimsy almost auto-destructive sculpture, as well as some cast more permanently in plexi-glass, a self-driven workaholic thriving on difficulties, eager to improvise. It was inevitable eventually, given his nature and the effect that Disney had on all of us who grew up in the thirties and forties, that he should have turned to animation. The fact that as a technique it is painstaking and extremely slow, was an added temptation to one who has always worked instantly and rapidly. It presented what he most cherishes: a challenge.

John Berger

Gerald Scarfe’s drawings suggest that he is that very rare thing – a natural satirical draughtsman.  Gillray was one, Rowlandson wasn’t.  George Cross was one, but Low isn’t.  The supreme examples are Goya and Daumier.  Such artists are not illustrators of ideas, however brilliant.  They are only occasionally witty.  What is essential to them is that they draw faithfully – and with pain – the ghosts that crowd in upon them.   There is nothing improvised about their work, and the stylisation of the drawing is never self-conscious because they draw what they see. Scarfe seems to me to belong to that proper and rare tradition.

Sir Peter Hall

Gerald Scarfe is a great stage designer – yet you could hardly call his talent neutral or ambiguous. He is, of course, a superb draughtsman in the English tradition. He has a line which is graceful, witty and eloquent. But underneath the humour, you always sense his ferocious dislike of stupidity, hypocrisy and rapaciousness – particularly the rapaciousness which demonstrates power. Sometimes his indictments make up a bestiary, in which the men and women who are his targets are the beast. But these beasts fight for domination, not survival. Like all great satirists, Gerald Scarfe is an idealist. If he didn’t believe strongly, he would not castigate so passionately.”

“As a friend or as a fellow-worker in the theatre, he is wise, witty and gentle. But encouraged by the licence of ink, he can be a terrible scourge –  particularly of public characters who pretend to be what they are not. All this puts him among the great English satirists, and hardly, one would have thought, fits him for the stage. But his art has grace, a wonderful sense of colour and a paradoxical ability to make ugly images quite beautiful. He takes reality and distorts it, but ends up with an image which is surreal – more real than reality, and therefore very potent in the theatre. Gerald Scarfe makes the theatre surreal again.


Scarfe: 60 Years of Being Rude – Special editions!

The limited Artist’s Edition of Scarfe: Sixty Years of Being Rude can be ordered direct from Gerald’s publisher by calling +44 (0)1235 759555. In 2019 Gerald published a stunning retrospective of his work, Scarfe, which expands on 2005’s Drawing Blood … Continue reading

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