Bill Leak: The Last of the Larrikins

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

August 18, 2002Reporter : Max CullenProducer : Catherine Hunter
Former Labor minister and broadcaster, Graham Richardson, describes Bill Leak as the "last great leftie" in Australia. And his cartoons certainly show no sympathy with the Howard Government. But Bill Leak is not just a cartoonist. He's also a caricaturist, a portrait painter and most recently, a radio host.


Max Cullen profiles Bill Leak, a self-described schizophrenic, who says of his work, "one side of the work is immortalising people in painting portraits or trying to make an enduring statement through painting and the other side is taking the piss mercilessly out of people and I enjoyed both equally and still do." Max spent a day with him in the offices of The Australian as he created his "Australo Politicus" cartoon — Leak's take on the finding of a seven-million-year-old skull in the African desert. He traces the evolution of prehistoric man to John Howard. Leak told Cullen, "I believe these early hominids have very pronounced bottom lips ... put a bit of hair [there] and incredibly, almost miraculously, it looks a lot like John Howard … and I think I am onto something here."

Warren Brown, a cartoonist for the Sydney Daily Telegraph, told Max, "He has this thing about John Howard and every time he opens The Australian … Bill has him down pat, and he's got this kind of ape-like quality to him and when GST came in, his lip became 10 percent bigger and his face drips out like that." Cullen asked Leak if he thought John Howard found his cartoons funny. Leak answered with a straight face, "I'm sure he does. I'm sure he looks forward to them. I wouldn't do it if he didn't."

Given those views, Graham Richardson praises the bravery of Leak. "He's got a ton of courage, but there is always that hint that he might be a bit troppo and I think that he likes that and doesn't try to hide it. I think he is out on the edge and that's the only place that Bill Leak would want to sit." Comedian Richard Fidler adds, "I think Bill is probably the premier cartoonist in this country. He is always prepared to go much further than other cartoonists."
Robert Desmond Leak, who has always been known as Bill, was born into a musical family. His father Reg was a working man with strong left-wing views and his mother was a piano teacher. They hoped he would become a musician, but he always wanted to be an artist. After school, Leak went to Julian Ashton's to study art. It was here that he found a flair for portraiture. Conductor Richard Gill said, "When I first knew him, his passion was painting. There were no two ways about it. He was painting furiously and was painting all sorts of stuff. There were portraits, still lifes, and it was fast and furious." One of his early commissions was to paint Australian icon, Sir Donald Bradman … a daunting prospect. But Leak did so well, Bradman let him do a second painting, for the National Portrait Gallery. "Bradman complained, 'look at that face,' and I said 'what's the matter with it?' 'You've made me look too old,' and I said 'that's what you will look like when you are old'."

Leak has lost the Archibald Prize more times than anyone else. Max Cullen talks to a former victim, Graham Richardson, who sat for Leak in 1995. "You will always see yourself as somewhat more handsome, more debonair and more dashing than perhaps the painter," said Richardson. "I thought no-one could be that ugly but maybe I was wrong." Leak said Richardson was disgusted with it, and told him: "I suppose in your arty-farty parlance, you'd regard this a breakthrough, wouldn't you? Why couldn't you have had your bloody breakthrough with someone else's portrait?"

Among his many losing Archibald portraits are Chow Hayes, Malcolm Turnbull, Les Patterson, Tex Perkins and Robert Hughes. Last year's entry, art critic Robert Hughes, seemed to be a shoo-in for the prize, but again he lost. Richard Fidler said, "In the Hughes portrait, you really get a sense of Hughes after his car crash as a broken man, mostly in body, but somewhat in spirit as well, yet there is the defiant face there..."

Fellow cartoonist, Fiona Katauskas, says of Leak, "He's a total bloke, like a classic Australian character: elbows up at the pub, the womanising thing, and stuff like that. He embodies [the] larrikin character [that] runs throughout his work, his personality, his mates that he has." Meredith Burgmann, the President of the NSW Legislative Council, agrees. "He is an unashamed bleeding heart about issues like Aborigines, the Republic, poverty. He is just an old-fashioned bleeding heart and I love that."

Leak adds, "When I started doing the cartoons — that very first one, I thought 'Bob Hawke will see this', and I couldn't sleep because I was so excited at the thought that he was going to see it and that has never, ever left me. Whenever I do a cartoon, people will say, 'John Howard is going to hate that one,' and I always think, yeah, I reckon he will."

"As Patrick Cook (Bulletin cartoonist) said, the life expectancy of a cartoon is about 10 seconds," says Leak, "but every now and then someone will cut the cartoon out and put it on the fridge with a magnet. And that's the cartoonist's equivalent of being hung in the Louvre."
Graham Richardson sums it up best. "Every society needs people like Bill Leak, people on the edge. People who push, sometimes who push too hard … and we've lost a lot of those people." sumber

4 komentar:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an idea, you sparked at thought from a angle I hadn’t given thoguht to yet. Now lets see if I can do something with it.

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