Anthony Jenkins – The Other Eye
June 20, 2016
Anthony Jenkins stages a retrospective of his caricatures of the famous and infamous – and finds a new fascination in the faces of the hills.
From an elder in the Borneo jungle to a stock clerk in an Orangeville grocery store, Anthony Jenkins is fascinated by faces. In fact, studying their essence and capturing it in a few strokes has been his life’s work.
Anthony moved to Mono in 2012, two years before retiring from his position as an editorial illustrator with The Globe and Mail. This summer, a retrospective of his work will be shown at Dufferin County Museum & Archives, featuring highlights of his caricature work over nearly 40 years at the Globe.
“I always wanted to be a cartoonist,” Anthony says. “A lot of people, when they’re little, say, ‘I want to be an astronaut, or a firefighter,’ but that’s what I wanted to be.”
Though he received a BA in fine art and English from the University of Waterloo in 1974, his cartooning career started in high school when he came across the entries for a drawing contest held by the Scarborough Mirror. Thinking he could do better, he submitted an independent drawing of his own– and they bought it. “Eight bucks I got. I’ve still got the pay stub. So I kept sending them in, kept getting paid eight bucks. Did that for two years.”
However, his career path wasn’t as clear as it seemed. His parents were determined their son should be a dentist. “In those days you had to choose, arts or science,” he says. “They said, ‘Artist, that’s real dodgy.’ So I thought about it, dropped all the arts for science; took math, chemistry, biology, all the stuff I hated. And my average plummeted. I wouldn’t even have gotten into university. So, it was art.”
Anthony drew for the university’s student paper and following graduation snagged a summer position with the Toronto Star as a vacation replacement for longtime Star cartoonist Duncan Macpherson – considered a god in the industry. It was a plum opportunity to show off his chops and when Macpherson returned, fate stepped in. Someone quit at the Globe and Anthony was invited to fill the spot.
Anthony’s work there spanned a variety of editorial illustration, including but not limited to political cartoons. Over the years, his caricature work evolved into a distinctive style he calls “elegant line.”
To begin with, he says, “I used a lot of cross-hatching. But everyone does that, so I was looking for something different. Also time constraints at a daily newspaper are fairly tight, so the faster the better.” He began eliminating detail, reducing his images to very spare lines, even going so far as to leave out an eye or a nose.
“At first it took educating people,” he says. “‘I know that’s Billy Graham, I know that’s Tony Bennett, or that’s Nixon.’ So you know who it is. Sometimes editors would say, ‘Well, where’s his other eye?’ like they were getting shortchanged. I’d say ‘Do you know who it is? Yeah? Well then, do you need the other eye?’
“Sometimes I’d put the other eye in and it wouldn’t be as good. I remember at one point I did the Shah of Iran with no face at all, just festooned with medals and the hair. It would have been lesser if I’d done the face.” The reverse could also work. One of Anthony’s best known portraits showed only the eyes, nose, moustache and mouth of Jack Layton, with no other detail. It appeared on the front page of the Globe when Layton died in 2011.
While capturing a recognizable likeness is the key goal, with elegant line style another goal is to infuse the lines themselves with artistry. “So you could almost turn the drawing sideways and think, Yeah, that’s a pretty amazing arrangement of lines,” Anthony says.
A consummate traveller who has visited 84 countries, Anthony’s appreciation for beautifully formed lines arose in part from an unlikely source – an elder from a tribe of one-time headhunters, deep in the jungle of Borneo.
“I get off the boat and I’m like some visitor from Mars,” he says. To bridge the communication gap, Anthony started drawing people. “At one point I get this old guy, he’s halfway naked, he’s just got sort of a loincloth on, and he’s wizened and covered in tattoos, his face, throat, everywhere. I take it he’s the head guy, so I think, I’ll draw him.” Anthony set to work, investing some time to get it right, while a few dozen people studied his every move.
When he handed over his completed drawing, the man seemed pleased, yet confused. “He looks at it and smiles, turns it sideways, turns it upside down. It took me until the next day to realize he was visually illiterate. He’d never seen a photograph or a drawing of a person, and the concept that these lines on the page were him was something he just didn’t get. He just liked the way it looked, like his tattoos. That experience made me like pretty lines.”
Anthony’s extensive travels also led to a career as a writer. During a visit to India, he began sending personal notes about his experiences back to his editor. To his surprise his editor published them. “So my writing was accepted on its own,” Anthony says. “That was a real revelation, because the cartoonists were always seen as second banana. You’re in a room full of 150 writers – really good ones – and you’re kind of considered to be the idiot savant who draws funny pictures.”
While most of us have had a good chuckle at someone else’s expense thanks to the clever imagination of a talented editorial cartoonist, Anthony says the role is not universally celebrated. “Some people think doing caricatures is a mean way to make a living. That you’re making fun of people, making people look stupid.”
Though he disagrees with that view, he acknowledges caricature can be used that way. “If you’re doing a really nasty bastard like Pol Pot or someone, you can go as extreme as you want. Or Donald Trump. Some people have got a face for caricature, and he’s certainly one of them. And his personality is a caricature too, so it doubles up.”
On the whole, though, Anthony sees his work as tribute, not assassination. “If I’m taking the time to look at someone really carefully to see what makes them unique, what makes them different from the other six billion people on the planet, that’s a compliment. I’m capturing them in a style unique to me, but recognizable to everybody. It’s not to be mean, it’s to make them interesting and different. A camera can take ten different pictures of you, but it’s still you. But ten caricaturists will all think, I’m going to do it my way.”
“The two ends of the spectrum are problematic. If a person is really good-looking and symmetrical, nothing stands out,” Anthony says. “On the other hand, if someone has a particularly unfortunate kisser, it can be more cruel than clever to exaggerate it.”
Retired with time on his hands, but not ready to put away his pens, Anthony continues to do commissioned work and pursue personal projects. His inspiration for the series of local people featured on these pages was simple: “Just an excuse to draw,” and an opportunity to get to know his new community better. He describes it as an evolution. “I was drawing the famous and infamous. Pretty much anyone you can think of, I’ve drawn them over 40 years. That’s behind me now, but I’ve always loved faces, so I figured, well, I’ll do local faces.”
Anthony’s first subject was Shannon Hewitt, a stock clerk at an Orangeville grocery store. “He has this great Elvis coif and a great face. I thought, Well, he’s a part of my life. I didn’t even know his name at the time, but I see him and other people see him, and I wanted to do people like that, who are in our lives.”
A retrospective of Anthony Jenkins’ caricatures over his 40-year career as an editorial illustrator and political cartoonist at The Globe and Mail will be shown at Dufferin County Museum & Archives this summer. Called A Fine Line – The Caricatures of Anthony Jenkins, the exhibition includes his portraits of several Canadian prime ministers and other world leaders, as well as celebrities – famous and infamous. It runs from June 25 (opening night) to August 20. See more of his work at jenkinsdraws.com.