Phil Hands dreamed of becoming a cartoonist since reading the iconic Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. Years later, he is bringing his own creations to life in the Wisconsin State Journal and in Union South Gallery 1308 for his exhibit “Tooned in: The political art of Phil Hands.”
“I’ve never had an exhibit this big before,” Hands said. “It’s neat to see your passion and your dream up on walls. You realize new people are seeing it for the first time and in a different format than the newspaper or online.”
Exhibit goers not only see the art in a new format, but they can see the cartooning process from start to finish. The displayed art is not limited to the finalized colored pieces that regularly appear in the Wisconsin State Journal — rough sketches and complete but colorless drawings are also on display, Hands said.
The rough sketches were completed with only a ballpoint pen, while others were completed with a pencil on Bristol board and filled out with cross hatching, he said. For the pieces that do have color, all color has been added digitally.
Even though Hands appreciates pens and pencils, he hates painting.
“The really artistic part is that it’s a process,” Hands said. “The exhibit tries to give an example of the process of how the work gets done.”
The exhibit not only shows the artistic process, but also explains specific political stories. The cartoons have been organized into collages regardless of their completion level. Some collages include the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s presidency and Gov. Scott Walker’s run for president.
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The public is allowed to write feedback for the exhibit and so far the response has been mostly positive, Hands said. There has been criticism saying that it is disrespectful to make fun of the president, but Hands hopes that conservatives can find humor in poking fun at the nation’s leaders.
After all, Hands has made fun of leaders from the Democratic Party as well.
“I made fun of Barack Obama when he was president and I made fun of former governor Jim Doyle a lot,” Hands said. “It’s about mocking the people in power, not partisanship.”
Hands’ political cartoons offer a creative, satirical spin about the news regardless of political affiliation, but also reveal an important message — something that Hands thinks people tend to forget.
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A cartoon is a work of art just like a painting or sculpture, thus revealing insight into the mind of the artist, he said. Communicating feelings and a message is the important aspect of a political cartoon, and if a political cartoon does not push a viewpoint, it’s not something to be proud of, Hands said.
But, Hands admits he is not proud of some of his own cartoons. These are the cartoons that make people laugh without getting them to think critically and realize there is a deeper message behind the art. Every cartoonist can make a funny drawing, but every cartoonist needs to be able to push a viewpoint, Hands said.
“We’re proud as cartoonists of the cartoons that we draw when we’re getting our viewpoints out there and making a strong point in a simple way that gets people engaged and entertained,” Hands said. “The viewpoint is really the most important part of what a cartoonist does.”
Hands’s exhibit will remain at Gallery 1308 until Sept. 22.