The SSH Cartoon Show launched on December 1 was a long time coming – but it was worth the wait.
Hung in preparation for a June 24 opening, norrie mAy-welby’s works graced the walls of the Orchard Gallery for five months while the Greater Sydney Covid-19 lockdown kept viewers away.
Norrie has been the South Sydney Herald’s cartoonist since May 2006 and her first solo exhibition offers a lively retrospective of hir creative contribution.
“The cartoons are witty, fearless and humane,” said the Rev. Andrew Collis at the SSH Cartoon Show opening.
“It’s fair to say they are the heart and soul of the South Sydney Herald – and I think they are getting better and better.
“In some ways the works exhibited are more relevant than they were in June – or differently relevant. You’ll see that there are some characters that appear in some cartoons, like the former premier, with issues that are more pertinent now than they were then.”
Orchard Gallery curator and artist in residence, Catherine Skipper, said each month she looked forward to seeing norrie’s cartoon in the paper and laughing.
“Norrie has a privileged role of making fun of politicians … and she does it so beautifully.
“The cartoon is always very funny,” she said, “but sometimes very sad as well, because norrie has social justice in her sights.”
Ms Skipper said this ethical emphasis was often reflected in the details. A poor mother struggling down the stairs with a pram, for instance, or an Aboriginal man crushed up against the stairs.
“You have to look closely to see what norrie is picking up: she is remarkably astute and very aware of what is happening at the current time.”
Over the years, norrie has lampooned the likes of Gladys Berejiklian, Scott Morrison, Julia Gillard, John Howard, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Gina Reinhardt, Clive Palmer and dozens of others in her cartoons. She and the gallery reproduced a selection of these works on mugs, aprons, tote bags, games, postcards and t-shirts and, along with framed prints and originals, these items were on sale at the show.
“I can tell you more about my process,” norrie said with the mock seriousness of an artiste, then adjusting her tone so it was a touch more serious.
“The important thing is just the bloody idea. It’s not technical brilliance.
“As I’m doing the cartoon I’m thinking: Who is this for? What’s relevant at this time? And I generally want to say something positive, I don’t just want to get the boots in, although it’s important to do that to politicians.
“So, I want to do something uplifting or I might be tackling a serious social justice issue, like Aboriginal deaths in custody, but I try to do it in a way which doesn’t put people off.”
Norrie said she’d worked from a photo to produce the cartoon in which Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are being ushered down the steps of a café near parliament house, an incident in which Gillard had lost a shoe.
Not photo realism per se, she explained, but everyone depicted in the cartoon was there in the same spot in the photo.
“Thank goodness we’ve got such silly politicians. You don’t often have to make stuff up.”
Norrie said she was donating all profits to the South Sydney Herald and the Orchard Gallery, projects of the Uniting Church.
“South Sydney Uniting Church has been kind enough to publish the local paper for the benefit of people in this area.
“The South Sydney Herald (SSH) was started because Trevor [Davies] thought that other people had very bad ideas about Redfern and the people here. The mainstream media used to say pretty shocking things about us – I don’t know if they’ve stopped now – but it was good to have a newspaper for the local people, with our stories that reflect our realities, and the SSH has been going on for 20 years.”
Norrie said she was grateful the paper wasn’t a daily because the work would be too laborious.
“Once a month I have to realise my deadline’s coming up and fill my head full of news and not stress about it so the brain works creatively. Because if you’re trying to squeeze an idea out, it blocks the thinking process. You’ve got to let it flow, take time out, get oxygen through the brain.
“It’s a great gig.”
Artworks are available for viewing on Instagram @orchardgalleryau, and exhibition items (including original drawings, prints, t-shirts, aprons and ceramic mugs) can be purchased via the online order form: https://bit.ly/3mQhAbD