Patrick Oliphant (b. 1935) is one of the Old Masters of editorial cartooning. He began his career in his native Australia, then came to the US in 1964, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1967, the first of many awards and accolades. The Gerald Peters Gallery in New York is presenting “Patrick Oliphant: A Survey,” which includes 34 mostly new works ranging from charcoal and ink drawings, paintings in watercolor and oil, and bronze sculpture.
It is his technical skill that raises his work above many of his contemporaries. His handling of volume and mass comes from careful observation, including plenty of life drawing. As he told Ann Landi of the Wall Street Journal, “You get into bad habits otherwise, with just cartoons. You have to keep yourself fresh that way. For anyone working in the figure, it’s a necessary discipline.” His drawings of street life in Rome, the result of a residency at the American Academy in 2012, show the same eye for body language and emotion he puts into, for instance, Chris Christie as Nero (“Emperor Christie,” 2014, top). Combined with his willingness to satirize figures on both sides of the political spectrum, it’s little wonder that historian David McCullough has labeled Oliphant “the Daumier of our time.”
Also like Daumier, Oliphant produces bronze sculptures, though Oliphant’s tackle a wider range of expressive styles, from the Giacometti-like thinness of “Bush I: Horseshoes” (1989) to the lumpen awkwardness of “Dancing Couple” (1984) and the stolidity of “Obama: An Easter Island Figure” (2009). Oliphant says his sculptures are “a natural transition from two dimensions to three.”