A View from Back O' Town
TAKING HIS TITLE FROM LOUIS ARMSTRONG'S 'Back o' Town Blues', Tony Earnshaw has produced a collection of political cartoons, what he calls 'my social realist period', that reflect his Surrealist allegiances and anarchic temperament. The title acts as a metaphor for that place where 'society's misfits set up camp and liberty triumphs over necessity'. The drawings revel in deriding ignorant and exhausted values, their seditious humour originating from Earnshaw's frustration with an entrenched class system. Be it Alfred Jary's play Ubu Roi, Jean Vigo's film Zero de Conuite, or the comedy routines of Lenny Bruce, wit has often been sharpened to ridicule hypocritical authority. Marcel Marien said 'We laugh, but not at the same time as you.'
Some opinion has it that to use such imagination as flat-caps and top hats, factories and the Houses of Parliament rats and heraldic devices, is outdated. Despite Earnshaw's detractors, we still live in the world of 'haves and have nots', so their value as symbols still works. In an enterprise culture that encourages the marketplace to be virtually sole arbiter of worth, these drawings acts a 'V' sign to 'hard-core greed'. The invidious nature of monetarist bullying and and acquisitiveness has become the harbinger of a new philistine.
Patriotism wanes when Earnshaw asks, 'Is there a market for limp flags?' The fact that these drawings date from 1984-86 leads one inevitably to feel that their anti-establishment sentiments have been fed by increasingly divisory government policies. If these drawings are bleak, so is yuppie consumerism, with its simplistic nation of Self-Self-Self.