IN January after the murders in Paris at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Mornington Peninsula publisher, author and artist Fran Henke dispelled her dismay and anger by creating a collage on the theme of the slogan that swept the world – “Je Suis Charlie” (I Am Charlie), including Aussie references.
“I’ve worked with cartoonists and satiric portraitists over more than 50 years of journalism and the tragedy hit me hard,” she said.
She donated her work, Je Suis Ahmed, to Bald Archy Prize organiser Peter Batey, who created the prize in 1994 to take the mickey out of pretentious portrait prizes such as the Archibald Prize.
As the reaction rolled on around the world – the most poignant cartoon coming from David Pope of the Canberra Times (“He drew first”) – Mrs Henke emailed Peter Batey suggesting they do a book celebrating Australia’s satiric portrait painters, the freedom in which they work, and his diverse career.
He agreed, saying it should be launched on 24 July with the announcement of the 2015 Bald Archy winner; it was put together in just five months.
In Yer Face – The Bald Archy Prize charts the growth of the prize from its start as a one-off celebration to now being Australia’s most popular touring art exhibition. It shows the significant role humour in art has played through history and in Australia since J F Archibald established The Bulletin in 1880.
A former arts journalist for the National Times and The Australian, Mrs Henke worked with Australia’s leading cartoonists, developing an appreciation for the nation’s “black and white” tradition, and interviewed artists such as Sidney Nolan, Brett Whitely and, in London, Elmyr de Hory the notorious forger.
As a theatre director, Mr Batey launched Mrs Henke’s first book in 1976 so they go back a long way, which informed her tribute to him in the book. He has written an hilarious account of how the prize came into being. There is also a rare interview with the Bald Archy’s judge, the elegant and well-informed sulphur-crested cockatoo Maude.
The book includes all winners of the Bald Archy Prize over its 22 years.
“Finding the 12 winners – one artist has won five times, three others have won twice – was a challenge,” Mrs Henke said. “We found all but one, Peter ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson. We were particularly worried about an early winner, Alan McClure, who was in his 90s. We discovered he had only recently retired as a cartoonist on the Cootamundra Herald and he has contacted. Finding my friend and 2005 winner Tony Sowersby of Seaford was not hard.
“I wanted to know who they were, what they did as ‘day jobs’. Wonderful responses and ‘selfie’ drawings started arriving.
“A tribute to Peter Batey was important. Peter with Barry Humphries was co-creator of Dame Edna Everage. Peter launched my first book in 1976, now 40 years on.”
The pair finished the book, sent it to the printer and arranged a launch in Sydney. Mrs Henke headed out to Melbourne Airport but missed her flight – and the launch – but arrived in time for lunch. She is a polio survivor and didn’t tick the box requesting assistance at the airport for its daunting stairs.
- In Yer Face – The Bald Archy Prize has been published by Fran Henke’s imprint Flying Pony Press and costs $30 plus packing and postage of $13.
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