Racist Caricature? In The Eyes Of The Beholder
As a professional party caricaturist and humor illustrator for over ten years, I’ve drawn at every conceivable type party event, fundraiser, and corporate venue. I actually think I’ve done more Bar Mitzvahs than the average Rabbi!
I’m taking a long time to say that over the years I’ve drawn thousands, if not millions, of faces and that’s not even counting what I’ve drawn on the subways of this city as the “Subwaysurfer” that you loyal readers are well familiar with if you follow my blog.
Caricature, by it’s very nature, exaggerates, amplifies, stretches, squashes, and liquifies the facial features of the intended target. Webster defines the word ‘caricature’ as a “loaded portrait” one that has “weight,” and “impact.”
Some people find it difficult to receive that impact. From time to time, I’ve heard the words, “THAT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE ME!”; “YOU MADE ME LOOK LIKE A WITCH!”; “MY NOSE ISN’T THAT BIG!” I’m accustomed to hearing these remarks and totally understand them. Heck, I’ve even said them myself when I was caricatured for the first time by fellow artist Kenly Dillard. My objection to the artist’s depiction was the same as most others. We all have a physical image of ourselves that we project onto the screen of our minds, and think everyone else sees the same altered image, objectively, that we see in our imagination. This altered image we project onto our mind screen is crucial to our self esteem. We see ourselves as having chiseled features, soft curves, seductive eyes, where none exist. Most artists, even some caricature artists, and illustrators, are willing, for a price, to engage people’s fantasies and draw that “imaginary image.” And then there are some who aren’t willing. I’m one of THOSE artists. At least when it comes to drawing political editorial caricature.
EDITORIAL CARICATURE AIN’T PARTY CARICATURE.
A distinction needs to be made between political editorial caricarture and party caricature. PARTY CARICATURE is drawn in 2-5 minute time frames. Which necessitates that an artist uses a streamlined approach so that the maximum number of party goers get drawn. The overall vibe is lighthearted and whimsical.
Is more illustrative. More time is given to the picture, and facial features and subtle nuances can be pushed, squashed and pulled for effect. BUT IS IT RACIST?
I’ve taken a while to get here, but wanted to set a tone for my answer. Recently, the above caricature featuring Senator Smith and Congressman Meeks has gotten a reaction out of some people, perhaps supporters; I’m unsure whether or not the politicians themselves feel this way, that my representations are racist.
I received a call from a reporter of a major Queens weekly, asking for my response to people’s responses to the picture. My reply can be summed up in my general approach to caricature. MY APPROACH TO CARTOONING CARICATURE
First, let me say that no artist has any control whatsoever of how his or her work is going to be received by the viewer. I do, however, have control over what I draw and know what my intent is.
It’s not divisive, I can tell you that. I’m an AFRICAN AMERICAN artist myself, and more than familiar with derogatory images and their power to incite, demoralize and ridicule. I did not depict anyone in Blackface, I simply amplified facial features, of an African American man. Period.
Because I am a caricature artist, I have a tendency to see things through a fun house mirror, so to speak. In other words, if you have a big forehead, it gets bigger, if you have a weak chin, it “goes into your neck,” if you have large eyes, they become saucers, and your eyelashes, wings.
And if you have big lips, they become BIGGER.
It’s not racial; some of us Black folk have big lips.
Perhaps it’s the color, which is a darker gray than the face, which causes attention to be drawn, pun unintended, to them. In this case, I simply used a darker color to separate the lips’ color from the rest if the face. It could be argued that I could have used a lighter shade of gray, but, what’s done is done.
I’ve seen JayZ in person ... trust me, some of us do have big lips. Beautiful full lips are a known, observable physical trait of African Americans that vary in terms of shape and size.
If a person has a reaction to the way they are drawn, it might have more to do with thoughts they have internalized on what is racist and divisive. For me, I’m being objective, making an observation, caricaturing it, and drawing a picture. That’s all. Senator Smith seems to have, in my opinion, a lot of space, visually, between his nose and his top lip. It’s long, comparatively speaking, compared to what caricature artists call “the average face prototype.”
THE JOB OF EDITORIAL CARICATURE
Unlike a political columnist who can make his point in two or three paragraphs, I must make my visual point in a single panel, using the strongest images. Can I draw them humorously? Yes. Divisively? No. Keep in mind also, that the editorial artist, in some cases, acts as illustrator to the editor writing the copy. Although I have done cartoons on my own of political figures like former Congressman Anthony Weiner, in most cases I am interpreting editorial copy, and coming up with the cartoon angle that I feel expresses, visually, the overall article. I have, since coming on board at The Wave, increased the visibility of African Americans in my cartoons, many if which feature African Americans in prominent roles. I have no ax to grind. If someone thinks the ’toon is racist, it’s in the eyes of the beholder, SPEAKING OF ANTHONY WEINER ...
A past cartoon featured Anthony Weiner, following the Twitter fiasco. Weiner, a Jewish politician, is depicted with a large nose. Is that to say, I’m making a statement about Jewish People? NOPE. I’m just making fun of Weiner’s facial features. At the end of the day, as a CARICATURE cartoonist, I’m using making fun of their FACES. I’ve even made fun of mine.