Presenting Grunts and Grapples

Every day on the way to meet Lara for lunch I walk past Tunbridge Wells Gallery, and I’ve always seen this cool looking poster for this exhibition, it’s just now I actually got round to going in to check it out, sadly, a week before it’s three-month stint at the venue ends.

Grunts and Grapples is a showcase of oldy-time wrestle mania during the golden age of British Wrestling from the 1950s til the 90s. From posters, photography, video, costume and other paraphernalia, it’s an incredible collection of delight and something of a history lesson on something of a bygone era.

Wrestling was a central part of British national life in this period with iconic figures such as Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy appearing in hundreds of UK town halls and theatres night after night as well as featuring on TV. The exhibition explores how the showmanship of wrestling drew on earlier traditions of public entertainment such as music hall and circus and how this informed the development of the cast of characters, storylines and audience participation unique to the sport. 

Through posters, photographs, souvenirs and costumes the exhibition reveals the origins of wrestling’s interplay of sport and spectacle and the development of personas. The portrayal of wrestlers as baddies (heals) or goodies (blue eyes) would be combined with prevailing social narratives of otherness and racial and sexual stereotypes.

Grunts and Grapples

Exhibition graphics
Capturing the fight. These images are not the work of fine art photographers; they are grainy reportage that document another night in another town hall; another night of grunts, grapples, and the occasional angry granny.
Advertising the action. Produced by anonymous printers, earlier works consisted largely of type, but in time photographs were included.
Poster in detail.

For the full collection including more posters, videos and other artefacts, check out the Grunts and Grapples website.

Curated by design historian Kerry William Purcell.

Grunts and Grapples
Tunbridge Wells Gallery
15 September 2016 – 14 January 2017

Berlin: Graphic Design in the GDR

This May Lara and I headed out to Berlin for a long weekend, the sun was out and it felt like the start of summer – with temperatures passing 25°C for the first time this year.

It was my third visit, Lara’s first, to the cosmopolitan city and we enjoyed the food, the drink, the hospitality, and the availability of vegan currywurst!

Vegan currywurst from Curry at the Wall Berlin Mitte, opposite the Topography of Terror
Vegan currywurst from Curry at the Wall Berlin Mitte, opposite the Topography of Terror

Berlin has a plethora of museums, with countless exhibitions on the go to, one that caught my eye was an exhibition on GDR graphic design at the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things).

Masse und Klasse: Graphic Design in the GDR. Flyer, 2016.
Masse und Klasse:
Graphic Design in the GDR. Flyer, 2016.

The exhibition presented a wide range of designs, for books, periodicals and phonograph records, as well as packaging, advertising and posters – works of commercial graphic design for mass production that shaped the day-to-day visual environment of East Germany.

‘The exhibition examines the characteristics of this part of the GDR’s aesthetic culture. What images, typefaces, materials and colours were used; what traits and qualities or references to international trends can we discern?

‘“Masse und Klasse: Graphic Design in the GDR” introduces illustrative examples of the people and organisational structures involved, and investigates the potentials and limitations of graphic design in the East Germany. Themes include the improvisation driven by an environment influenced by scarce resources and political exigencies.

‘With a nuanced look at the various fields of graphic design, the exhibition questions widespread judgements on the aesthetics of day-to-day life in the GDR – often described “grey” or “pallid”.’

– words of Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge (Museum of things)

A week for/against the cartoonists

Last week an old friend came to visit me and it was a good opportunity to check out this amazing exhibition, a major retrospective exhibition of Ralph Steadman’s work, at the Bentlif Gallery – Maidstone Museum. I’d been anticipating the arrival of the exhibition for some time, as it’s not very often you get a world renowned graphic artist showing in your local gallery. I have to hand it to them (the gallery) as they’ve done well in recent years. They hosted the Henri Mattisse’s paper cut outs during winter 2013/14 which later exhibited at the Tate Modern that summer, if you were in London you would of seen the posters everywhere.

Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery

My tutor at college first introduced me to Ralph Steadman’s illustrations, with George Orwell’s Animal Farm, through one of the introduction units on the graphic design course. We were tasked with replicating his style and, with our best efforts, illustrate Napoleon, the antagonist pig-leader from the children’s book. It took a few attempts to embrace the archaic effects of overloading the pen – creating ink blotches, spraying it across the page to then find myself dunking a fat paintbrush into a pot of rich-black Indian ink and slapping it onto the paper. So much mess but I really enjoyed it.

Steadman lives locally, moving to his Kent studio just over 25 years ago, so it is good to see the town celebrating it’s creative heritage. This exhibition was originally put together by the Cartoon Museum back in 2013, celebrating Steadman’s long and illustrious career as one of the most important graphic artists of the last fifty years, called ‘Steadman @77’.

On display are many of his early cartoons published by Private Eye and Punch, including his earliest published cartoon from the July 1956 Manchester Evening Chronicle, as well as his later pieces for The New York Times and Observer. Along with many of Steadman’s famous ‘gonzo’ works from his collaboration with the writer Hunter S. Thompson, including his iconic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas illustrations.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Alongside these are his seminal children’s books illustrations like The Big I am, Animal Farm and Through the Looking-Glass, demonstrating his range. Steadman’s more recent atmospheric wine drawings produced for Oddbins and his sketches of ‘boids’ can also be seen.

‘Ralph is an icon, his topical, political renderings iconic, his mad jargon a paragon of artistic brilliance. And through the illustrated musings of his life and times, Ralph’s bird will perpetually soar in the minds of those that follow, carrying the torch he once collected from all the dissidents that spewed their creative venom before him. Here is a man and artist of superior calibre.’ – Johnny Depp

Sadly my visit was shadowed by the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris the day earlier. During my visit I was inundated with notifications on my phone from BBC Breaking News alerting me of every detail of the manhunt that ensued, it just hit me how relevant this experience was to current events. Here I was celebrating the works of a cartoonist, yet only 200 miles away across the English Channel they were massacred. I think it is important to remember that these illustrations are a form of communication, as powerful as spoken or written word. I’m not sure if Charlie Hebdo were right to print offensive imagery but where could the line be drawn? What level of offence is acceptable? Are Steadman’s satirical caricatures offensive? To those he depicts I suppose so, but to others it’s a visual representation of someone’s opinion and it’s entertaining! What would I be looking at on these walls if Steadman couldn’t cause a little offence?

Anyway, check out this exhibition if you’re in the area, it’s great. Also there is a competition to win a signed copy of any piece of your choice, sounds good. I went for one from Through the Looking Glass, as it is visually stunning, but my favourite piece from the collection has to be the memorial piece to Hunter S. Thompson signed with messages of love from his close family and friends.

Through the Looking Glass

Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective
Saturday 6 December 2014 – Saturday 28 February 2015
Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery

Sense of Place

Visited a great local exhibition called ‘Sense of Place’. The projects included analogue and digital print (experimental and manipulation), graphic design, photography, sculpture, book art, architecture, audio and illustration. It was very good to see a variety disciplines, academics and students exhibiting together, especially at the start of the academic year. Hopefully the show will inspire some of the students starting this year.




‘A Sense of Place is a collaborative project between UCA Canterbury and Le Havre ESADHaR Universities.

Staff and students have been exploring and mapping the, social, cultural, historical and architectural contrasts between these two World Heritage sites; from Canterbury’s medieval footprint to Peret’s modernist utopian city.

The responses have been generated through diverse graphic art processes, creating prints, photographic images, book art to installations and wallpaper designs. The work therefore questions individual’s concepts of identity, belonging and culture within these contrasting environments and their sense of place.’

(Source: UCA)

A Sense of Place
15 September – 4 October
Herbert Read Gallery, University for the Creative Arts (UCA) Canterbury, New Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 3AN