Saturday, February 06, 2010


You've probably seen Paul Moyse's work before, but just don't remember the name. The guy's brilliant!

He's done a lot of caricatures for The Weekly Standard in England and they get re-printed over here in all sorts of venues. I highly recommend his web site:

Actually, this link will take you to the page on his web site where he put up caricatures of himself done by other artists. It's VERY instructive!

I thought it might be interesting to study some of these caricatures. Maybe they'll give us an insight into how far a caricature can deviate and still retain a likeness.

Let's start with the way Paul Moyse really looks. In the snapshot above his face appears to have two parts: a rounded, slightly squared-off top, and a weighty, imposing muzzle. The parts are unified by a big nose (Geez, I hope Moyse never reads this!).

Here's (above) Moyse's own caricature of himself. It's a great picture but, being a self-portrait, it attempts to flatter. The head is somewhat unified in design, and not so much in two distinct parts, as in the photo. A unified design is a sign of youth (I talk about this in my previous post on faces). The skin is also robust and tight, also a youthful characteristic. What the heck! When I do pictures of myself I always shave off a few years. That's an artists perogative.

Here's (above) another self-portrait. Wow! A terrific picture! It looks like something Virgil Parch might have drawn. You could say that the nose is too big and the eyes are too close, but it's so funny that it doesn't matter. Boy, if a drawing's funny, people accept it as an accurate caricature, even if it isn't.

Here's an interpretation of Moyse (above) by another artist, one that's more realistic (well, sort of). The eyes are just as close as in the previous picture but here they don't work. You forgive close eyes on a deliberately distorted picture, but on a more realistic picture like this, they seem out of place.

Another snapshot (above). Moyse's dome is round, but it's also squared off a little. The top of the head is de-emphasized and the wide-angle muzzle is thrust at the camera. .

Here's (above) a caricature by another artist that emphasizes the wide angle even more than the photo. The cheeks are less thick than his real cheeks, and the lips are bigger. You could argue that the top of the head might have been smaller, and more detail on the shirt might have been nice.

By another artist (above). The face has a puffy, bee-stung look to it, as if it's pushed out from the inside. The line work is beautiful, but the artist was so intent on capturing the puffy quality that he lost some of the likeness. As in the picture above this one, the dome seems to distract.

In general I think it's a mistake for a caricature to emphasize irregular puffiness, even if the subject really is puffy. I don't know why that is. It's a law laid down by Zeus, and we mortals would do best to follow it without question.

In a comment Niki mentioned that the puffiness makes the face look black. I never thought about it before, but I guess it does.

Here (above) the artist emphasizes the chin. Lots of artists do this, and I have to admit that the effect is appealing. It certainly helps in establishing volume and weight. Even so, it seems inappropriate to the subject.

Being a caricaturist can be scary. Sometimes you realize halfway through that you're starting to lose the likeness, but the drawing is succeeding on its own terms as a work of art, and it demands that you continue as before, subject be damned! You have no choice but to do that, but how do you justify it to the person you're drawing?

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Wow! A highly-skilled picture (above) that emphasizes a just-woke-out-of-a-deep-sleep look in the subject's eyes. The technique is so wonderful that I hesitate to criticize, but Zeus compels me to remind artists that this quality of the eyes is forbidden to caricaturists. Only Zeus knows why, and he's not telling.

The hairy muzzle is given an emphasis that isn't in the photo reference, but it's done so well that you can't complain. The artist seems to be insinuating his own belief that facial hair is bizarre and unnatural, and I admire him for doing that.

Artists should insinuate their own opinions about the world into their work. That's because an artists first responsibility, even a caricaturists first responsibility, is to create a beautiful work of art that reveals something interesting about the natural world.


RooniMan said...

Pew! Being a caricuture sounds like hard work.

Anonymous said...

Niki said...

The one where he's all puffy also makes him look black, I was skimming this post at first and saw that and concluded that all the pictures were different people before they even loaded. If any of them lost the man's face it was that one. The guy who made it would probably draw me as just a black circle with eyes.

Lester Hunt said...

Love that running gag about Zeus. I am so tempted to steal it, but I know it would be wrong.

FriedMilk said...

What I like about you and your buddy John K. is that when you analyze a piece of art, you don't do it English teacher style, where if you did the Mona Lisa, you'd talk about the history, the painter, some symbolism, etc. as if the painting were just a vessel for making references and metaphors. You guys explain HOW it gets this or that effect across. People tend to look at the literal meaning of things, and associations: Picasso draws a bull, that's a symbol for Spain, it's the minotaur, etc. You much less often hear somebody analyze how the bull fits into the picture as a visual thing, something that's a functional piece that expresses an opinion or conveys a mood. Or maybe I'm just unfamiliar with that style of criticism?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Rooni: I have a suspicion that anything an artist does well is hard. You have to work near the limit of your knowledge, so you're always attempting to solve problems.

Anon: Haw!

Niki: Black? Yeah, he does look somehat black in that line drawing. Come to think of it I've seen lots of blacks with puffy faces, but you don't think of it that way because the skin is pulled somewhat tight. When a white person is puffy, usually the skin is loose.

Lester: Haw! Please use it as much as you like!

Fried: Thanks for the compliment! Formal education has been corrupt for a long time, and is badly in need of reform. Government backed student loans only deepened the corruption, because they gave unscrupulous schools a huge financial incentive for dumbing down the curriculum.

I wish educators who are serious about teaching would band together and start real, uncredentialed, college-level schools. Actually, they probably have. No doubt there's a whole history of this that I know nothing about.

Sorry, I got off on a tangent here. Your point had to do with unnecessary padding in discussions of this type, and I couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

Great point fried! The whole postmodern way of seeing a work of art as soley a product of its time gets tiring. I don't listen to The White Album because it is a perfect time capsule of the Summer Of Love.

It is great to see intelligent writing on cartooning and art that isn't just dreary intellectual droning about stuff like "semiotics" and is about the art itself.

I have the same problem with movies in that it's really hard to find essays on film that break down what a director was trying to do cinematically in each shot and film grammar and whatnot instead of the same old dreary symbolism and grad student speak.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely can't stand writing on art or anything for that matter that is needlessly and relentlessly academic and intellectual. Especially when it's being written by a guy that's my age (22). These people really need to read critics like Manny Farber, you can explore really deep and complex ideas while still having a warm conversational style and not come across as a pompous ass.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: Manny farber? I know that name, but I can't place it. I'll look it up.