A retrospective of Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Tony Auth will be on view at the Michener Art Museum June 2 to October 21 in the Fred Beans Gallery. To Stir, Inform and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth is sponsored anonymously, with additional support from Deborah & Arthur Corsini, Caroline & David Rasner and Williams & Hand, P.C.
“This exhibition is a celebration of newspapers and wouldn’t be possible without them,” says Guest Curator David Leopold. ”With the patronage of newspapers, Tony has had a regular nationwide exhibition for decades. He’s had more people see his work in a day than most artists get seen in a lifetime.”
To Stir, Inform and Inflame: The Art of Tony Auth is organized in sections like a newspaper. “There’s local, national, and international news,” says Leopold, “as well as sections on the economy, the arms race, civil rights and healthcare.” Throughout are sections on the nine presidential administrations which function as a timeline for the show. In the center of the installation is Auth’s drafting table where his latest cartoons will be added continuously.
The show will not only look at his past but will be the first to showcase his groundbreaking digital work. “This is the future for editorial cartooning,” says Leopold. “His animated drawings are dynamic and add to the viewing experience, making it a natural for the online world. Seeing the drawings come to life as Tony provides a voiceover allows him to interact with his audience in a way a static image on the printed page cannot.”
A selection of Auth’s sketchbooks, in which the viewer will have an opportunity to look over the shoulder of the artist as he creates a cartoon, will be a part of the exhibit. “Few cartoons spring fully realized from Tony’s mind,” adds Leopold. “Through a series of preliminary drawings, we see a good cartoon become a great one revealing the evolution of how a cartoon is created.”
Spanning Auth’s 40-plus-year career, this exhibition gathers together the full range of Auth’s art, including drawings, paintings, and sketches, as well as a selection of his award-winning children’s book illustrations. To Stir, Inform and Inflame will present 150 original cartoons that have touched the lives of countless newspaper readers in our region and, through syndication, all over America.
Tony Auth’s cartoons, seemingly simple and always direct, have influenced public opinion and politicians. “Our job is not to amuse our readers,” Auth says of a national artistic heritage of editorial cartooning that began with Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” in Philadelphia in 1754. “Our mission is to stir them, inform and inflame them.”
Auth was a fledgling artist from California in 1971 when The Philadelphia Inquirer flew him in for a weeklong job interview as the paper’s editorial cartoonist, and thus began an award-winning legacy of excellence that documents the changing political and cultural landscape of our time. He won one of the paper’s first Pulitzer Prizes in 1976, and among many other awards, the Thomas Nast Prize in 2002 and the Herblock Prize in 2005. He was a Pulitzer finalist again in 2010. After more than 40 years at the Inquirer, Auth joined WHYY/Newsworks.org in March, where his digital works are the subject of the “Behind the Lines” blog. He continues to syndicate his cartoons nationally.
“His perspective is that of a bemused and often angry comic historian. Irony, never a favorite form with Americans, is his meat and potatoes,” says Jules Feiffer. “He is not smug, and though he can be mean, he is never mean-spirited. Auth is a moralist and an optimist.”
Auth’s drawings make a difference in how we view the world. His cartoons tell us more than columns of newsprint in a way that we remember long after other viewpoints have faded.
“In his 41 years at the drawing table in the Editorial Board’s offices, Tony has praised, lamented and skewered the deeds of eight U.S. presidents, seven Philadelphia mayors and myriad other politicians of all persuasions,” says Chris Satullo, former editor of the Editorial Page at the Inquirer and current Executive Director of News and Civic Dialogue at WHYY. “From Watergate to Whitewater, he’s been unsparing on presidents who violated the public trust. From citizen’s band radio to ‘Survivor,’ his drawings have commented with wry wit on the fads and fancies of American culture.”
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Tony Auth’s significant contribution to the region then gathering the highlights of his career in this special exhibition,” says Leopold, who has organized exhibitions for a wide range of museums including the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library in America; and the Victoria and Albert Museum and Berlin’s Film Museum in Europe. “These works show how consistently good, and dare I say right, he’s been over four decades. His seemingly unflappable optimism and unwillingness to bow to power give us all a voice on the issues of the day. He might not show us or our leaders at our best, but there is always his hope that we will all be better.”