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Home arrow Interviews arrow Gerald Scarfe interviews
November 2005 - with Brain Damage Print E-mail
Conducted by Matt Johns, Brain Damage, in November 2005.

We reported on 3rd September of the publication on November 3rd of "Drawing Blood: Forty Five Years of Scarfe Uncensored", an eager-awaited book that sees highlights of Gerald Scarfe's career compiled into a lavish hardback book.

The book is a real feast for all Floyd fans, due to his extensive work with the band, over the years, featuring a few illustrations from The Wall which haven't been seen before - alongside the five decades of incredibly varied work he has done for all sorts of people and publications.

We caught up with Gerald for a long chat about his life and career. As you will see, his work with Pink Floyd was shaped by his experiences...


Brain Damage: Let's kick off with your early influences, and how they shaped your ideas and style. You suffered from chronic asthma as a child and I understand that this lead to you drawing.

Gerald Scarfe: Yes, I was bedridden for... well, I was born with it, and therefore had it for the first sixteen years of my life. I've still got it now, but the drugs are so efficient these days, I can keep it at bay. But I think it affected me when I was very young, and I found myself bedridden a lot of the time, and in hospital a lot of the time. Even in those days, as well as drawing, I used to make plastercine models and make little marionnettes and puppets, and so forth. All of which, as you know well, I then did writ large at shows afterwards.

But I think drawing at that time was my way of explaining the world to myself; I was a pretty nervous, frightened child.

BD: You grew up during the war...

Gerald Scarfe: Yes, I grew up during the war, my father was in the RAF...

BD: Both of those must have made a huge impression on you.

Gerald Scarfe: Well, yes, it did. He wasn't around a lot, but we followed him around the country, but he was always being sent here and there. I was almost a sort of one-parent child I suppose, at that time, and my brother was born seven years later, after the war, so I was completely alone then. And when you are a sickly child no-one wants to be your friend or come round to sit by your bedside, they want to go out and play.

So that's why I took to reading and writing, and drawing. And drawing, above all else. As well as making these sort of theatrical projects, which later I was able to use. I did almost have a kind of feeling, when I was in bed on some of those occasions, that I would be doing it later, that this would be what I'd be doing [as an adult] anyway, one of those flash-forward sort of things.

BD: Was there any kind of family influence [over your artistic bent], was there any member, going back in your family history...

Gerald Scarfe: No, not really. There's no other art in the family, except an uncle who ran a commercial art studio which may sound as though it's similar, but is actually to do with selling "Tunes" and things like that.

BD: Which I understand you hated anyway.

Gerald Scarfe: I hated it because advertising is telling lies, basically, making crap goods look terrific, and I felt I was so privileged to be an artist anyway, why was I prostituting myself on doing this sort of rubbish? So when I left there, I suppose after about five or six years, I then went to the other extreme and started telling to me what seemed to me at the time the ultra-truth about the world around me - social life, and the politicians, and so forth.

BD: You were submitting cartoons to Punch, then, and then started working for Private Eye...

Gerald Scarfe: Private Eye was a great help. Because when that came along, Peter Cook and William Rushton, and one or two others, really encouraged me to kind of "go for it". That's really when I started to do political figures, and realising that I could actually aim my drawings at representing life - not doing cartoons of little men on desert islands, but actually reflect what's going on around us all.

BD: Well, Winston Churchill - I thought it was a fantastic portrait that you did of him in Parliament, but you got a lot of criticism at the time for it.

Gerald Scarfe: Well mainly because, in those days - back in the sixties - we didn't know so much as we know now. I mean, newspapers now are full of exposes, and what's going on behind the scenes, but then - in the days of Churchill - we the public were not allowed to know that he was no longer that strong bulldog creature doing the V for Victory sign on the White Cliffs of Dover, defying the German hun.

He was in fact, when I went to the House Of Commons to draw him, a shambling, senile man. But the newspapers were not allowed to let the nation know that, because he was an iconic leader, and he represented Britain. But of course I had to draw him as he was; I couldn't draw him as a bulldog on the Cliffs of Dover, I had to draw what I saw. So when I took it back to The Times, they wouldn't print it. However, Private Eye had no such worries and they stuck it on their front cover!

But it was an indication of how bland those times were, and how we weren't allowed to say what we're allowed to say now. I mean, it's not perfect now, but it's amazing what people can get away with now.

BD: Well, exactly. I was very impressed with it, apart from anything it showed a completely different aspect to your drawing. It didn't strike me at all as caracature...

Gerald Scarfe: It was slightly caracatured, I suppose, but I felt it was such an important drawing to do, I ought to be as faithful as possible to what I saw before me, rather than putting a spin on it, or an interpretation on it, which to a certain extent is what caracature does, it exaggerates. I didn't think this needed the exaggeration, I just thought it needed the truth telling about it.

BD: Which I guess, is similar, to [your representation of] the Vietnam War, because you were sent by the Daily Mail to cover that. That must have easily been your toughest assignment?

Gerald Scarfe: Well, yes, I think it was. It was the first time that I'd ever been to a war, and up to that point I'd just drawn it symbolically, with Johnson shitting bombs on Vietnam, but when you are actually there, you can see what chaos it is, and how sad it is. The young boys - 19, 20, 21 - all being sent out to the other side of the world to kill people. They don't know why, they've just come out of college, they didn't want to go, they were scared stiff, and they were being killed.

And then the Vietnamese people, those who were being occupied, were most gentle. Beautiful girls, beautiful, gentle people. Just like all people - just want to get on with their lives, and have families, and have a bit of fun and have a decent life. They are not interested in war - no one is, unless you are a professional soldier. Or a politician! And then of course it's your living!

So I no longer saw it as a cartoon of figures on a chessboard - I saw figures blown to pieces with limbs coming off, and heads coming off, and the horror of the whole thing.

BD: And of course, sadly, nothing changes.

Gerald Scarfe: Nothing changes. Still going on today with the Iraq War, with young American guys being sent out again, to blow up innocent Iraqis. It just repeats itself. That's something I've discovered with my 45 years in the book - that things that I railed against, or complained against, all those years ago, they don't change.

It's like famine - I drew famine in Biafra - "join the child to the food - it baffles world leaders". That would have done equally well for the Ethiopean famine, and the other recent famines.

It just goes on and on. I kind of hope that we advance a little bit here and there, but we sink back an awful long way too.

BD: You quit working for the Daily Mail, and you started working with the Sunday Times. You've been with them for 37 years now...

Gerald Scarfe: Yeah, a bit of a run I think!

BD: Have you noticed a change in attitude of what you can get away with in that time?

Gerald Scarfe: Yes I have. In the early days, I did a drawing of [Prime Minister Harold] MacMillan on a chair in the pose of Christine Keeler for the cover of the Private Eye annual, and WHSmith wouldn't stock the book due to the picture on the front! I did a drawing last year, or the year before last, of [Princess] Diana being screwed by a pig and that was on BBC2!

The pig is the press, and the question in the drawing is was she being raped by the press, or was she going along with it?

BD: Was it mutually beneficial, in other words?

Gerald Scarfe: Yes, was it mutually beneficial! It just goes to show how much things have changed. I wouldn't have been able to print Diana and the pig in the Sunday Times, I don't think, but certainly in the book, as you can see, there's lots of ruder drawing in the book that you wouldn't see in a newspaper.

BD: How much free reign do they give you over your weekly submission?

Gerald Scarfe: Complete. A complete political free reign. I come up with whatever I like - I choose whatever subject I like, and I draw it the way I like. But I know there's no point me doing Prince Charles popping out of Camilla's fanny, as they'd never print it, but I do do these drawings for my own interest, or for my own fun I suppose.

So a lot of them exist, but never see the light of day but in this book, I've tried to include a certain selection of them. I didn't want to overbalance the book... In fact, the book is an effort, really, to balance the four quarters of my life.

BD: Going back to the weekly cartoons you do, is it harder these days to get inspiration? There seems to be a move towards general blandness and facelessness particularly in the modern politician. For instance, the two David's - Cameron and Davis [UK Conservative prospective leaders] - don't seem to offer very much!

Gerald Scarfe: No, they don't! I was on the Andrew Marr show with both of them on Sunday; I had to draw them - the drawing had their arms around each other, being buddy-buddy, and ho-ho-ho, and all that. And then I showed the other side of the drawing, which was their arms are actually holding daggers and they've got them plunged into one another's backs. And it's really a drawing on how they pretend to be great mates but are stabbing each other in the back.

But it's quite interesting to see how, when they were shown the drawing by Andrew Marr, that they were both laughing and trying to prove who was the biggest sport! [Laughs]. So when you say it is bland, it is and it isn't. The Bush-Blair Iraq war situation has given me a lot of material. There are a lot of Bush drawings, as you can see towards the end of the book. I always draw him as this kind of ape-like creature, starting a bush war, or there's that one with him flying overhead, with: "Is it a bird, is it a plane... no, it's a fucking disaster!"

So there's plenty around, if you look for it.

BD: I guess you have to, slowly over time, develop a characature, rather than go straight in, and gradually make people aware of them. Maggie Thatcher, for instance, how she developed over the years...

Gerald Scarfe: Well, yes, she did develop. When a character first appears on the scene you can't make much of them. I mean the two David's... all we know about them at the moment, is that one's an Etonian toff, and the other is a boxer from a one-parent family in Tooting, and that's about all you get from them at the moment.

If one of them gets into power, even if one of them becomes Prime Minister, then that's when they start to develop their character, and I can add it into the drawing. When they start making their first cock-ups is when you can have a go at them.

BD: Have any of your "victims" ever complained to you (apart from Mick Jagger fans, that is!)

Gerald Scarfe: No they don't, generally. I think partly, with politicians, it's beneath their dignity to show that they've been offended by a mere scribble. But as you can see in the book, [modern artist] Tracey Emin was a bit upset by her drawing - "fucking shithouse" - she didn't like that! She thought it would've been alright if I'd shown her throwing up in the loo, but she didn't like sitting on it! Said it was too private!

BD: What's your aim, particularly with your more serious pieces; is it to effect change or influence public opinion?

Gerald Scarfe: Well, really to put down what I feel about things. When I'm working in my studio I don't think "this will affect change, this'll rock them on their heels", I just put down what I feel. Then I can print it sometimes... but it's really as it was when I was a sickly child in bed, just getting them off my chest and expressing them in the only way I know how.

BD: You're obviously best known in the Floyd world for your marvellous work on The Wall, in particular the movie. Goodbye Blue Sky sequence is an obvious, particular favourite; some incredible visions run throughout the film however - the things like the dove turning into the eagle of war, the schoolkids getting minced, and the marching hammers. How much of these were Roger's ideas, and how much were yours?

Gerald Scarfe: This is the great thing about him. Roger gave me complete carte blanche, complete control over it. I mean, obviously he showed me the lyrics, but other than that... as a child who grew up in the war, Goodbye Blue Sky came completely from my mind, because I had memories of the war.

Roger was born after the war; as you know, he lost his father in the war, and that's why he refers to it, but I actually lived through it, and remember the bombs falling in London, and I remember being in air raid shelters, but above all else I remember having to wear a gas mask, which is a very claustrophobic thing for anyone to wear, let alone an asthmatic. I'd put this thing on and fight for breath. I mean it was only practice - because there was no occasion when gas was dropped, to my memory.

But I hated this thing. They tried to make it look cute and childlike by putting Mickey Mouse ears on it, and calling it a Mickey Mouse children's gasmask. However, as you know in the film that came in useful for the frightened ones. I gave them gas-mask heads and they are running for cover into air raid shelters, as the dove which explodes into the Germanic Eagle, and flies across the landscape, lays its trail of waste.

[When I do my illustrated talks] I like to show the Goodbye Blue Sky sequence, because it ties up with my childhood, really, it's a sort of poem to the last war, and it was the Floyd that gave me the opportunity to do it. But the answer to your question is no, they didn't interfere at all in the images. They obviously saw what I was going to do, but they never altered them.

I remember Roger saying that "when we employ an artist, we employ him for what he does, not for what we would like to make him do". In other words, you get what you get with an artist, you don't try and change them into something else. You know, saying that "this would be better like that" or whatever...

BD: Was there anything that you came up with that either Roger, or the film studios, got you to tone down?

Gerald Scarfe: No, no, no... I don't think there was anything like that. Obviously we wanted to come up with some figure of oppression, and I came up with the hammers. I was slightly worried myself that they might be adopted by some fascist, neo-Nazi group as a symbol - thank god it didn't happen. But there was no effort to tone anything like that down. And I think that, when I did the hammers, and Roger wrote "hammer, hammer" into the lyrics, it was the one instance when the drawings influenced the lyrics.

BD: I always thought that they were an incredible idea; so simple yet so powerful.

Gerald Scarfe: Well, I had to think, what would be the most obvious symbol of oppression, and the most unrelenting, crushing, unthinking thing that I could think of, is a hammer. The violence of a hammer when it comes down is horrific.

BD: The animation sequences on the film must've been a massive piece of work. How many people were involved in total?

Gerald Scarfe: Well, it varied from time to time. I think when we first started, we were just 8 to 10 people, but then it grew up to 40 to 50 people.

When I was working on Wish You Were Here, I was really delivering almost weekly bits of film to the gigs, and they'd just tack it on to the end, or put it in somewhere. They found a piece of music that fitted what I was doing. Of course, I listened to the music, so I had, in Wish You Were Here, the influence of the music.

I did, I remember, a man walking towards the camera, and then standing there in a sandstorm, and then gradually blowing away and eroding. Whatever happened to that bit of film?

Some of the bits of Wish You Were Here were used in The Wall like the... there were bits from the old Wish You Were Here movie that I've not seen for some time. Incidentally, in the book, which is quite interesting, when I first met the Floyd there are some pictures of that.

Also, later on, when it came to The Wall, I was reminded, when I went back through my old drawings researching for this book, that when Roger and I first talked about Pink, Roger had this idea that it could be Punch, from [the traditional children's puppet show] Punch and Judy.

BD: Yes, I've seen that - absolutely fascinating!

Gerald Scarfe: Mmm, and I spent quite a long time actually drawing a lot of Punch and Judy drawings [laughs] until Roger turned up one day and he said, "Er, I've been thinking about this. Maybe it shouldn't be Mr Punch!" Then I came up with the idea of Pink as a vunerable little prawn-like figure!

BD: Certainly some of those early pictures for The Wall project are fascinating, some of the ideas there...

Gerald Scarfe: Oh, yeah!

BD: The first thing you worked on for the band was the Winter Tour 1974 programme, wasn't it? Was that Nick's idea principally?

Gerald Scarfe: Yes! Nick came to me, and... Nick's been a good friend over the years. He came to my opening the other night, in Bond Street, of my show. There are a couple of Floyd drawings in that [exhibition is now closed].

BD: One of the striking things about that tour programme is the caracature of the band. Have you ever been tempted to try and do an updated version?

Gerald Scarfe: No, not really. I did a drawing for Nick's birthday of him... There was a drawing of Roger that I did for the Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, which drew him as "Reg the dog". Roger pointed out that Reg was almost like his name - Roger - and the first half of my name, backwards. A nice little link there!

It's a pity that Reg the dog didn't have a longer life - he was a character I liked! He was a ne'er-do-well, lazy, drunken guy high on drugs all the time! A drunken dog! [laughs]

BD: I suppose he could have carried on if Roger's work had carried on in that direction...

Gerald Scarfe: I suppose so, yes. I think there was someone who came to me at the time, and asked if we could do a book of Reg the dog. So, Reg the dog may revive one day if a publisher comes along.

BD: You created a couple of album covers for Roger that weren't used. One for The Final Cut, I understand, and also for Amused To Death. The Amused To Death one, correct me if I'm wrong, was three gentlemen [supposedly David, Nick and Richard] floating in a cocktail glass. Is that correct?

Gerald Scarfe: No... I don't remember that. What was it called? Amused To Death? No, doesn't ring a bell... a bit of misinformation you have there!

[Matt's note: at the height of the problems between Roger and the others, this was a very common story doing the rounds, reported as fact!]

BD: But you did one for The Final Cut...

Gerald Scarfe: Yes, I did a cover for The Final Cut; I did several covers for The Wall, in fact, and I was toying with the idea of putting them into the book. When I went back to my Wall drawings, there was a lot of preparitory work that never saw the light of day.

BD: It's always quite interesting; people obviously get used to the covers that make it, but I was talking to Storm Thorgerson about this fairly recently, and asked him about Dark Side Of The Moon. And he couldn't remember any of the rejected covers at all. When you have such an iconic cover such as The Wall, or Dark Side Of The Moon, one wonders what wasn't used...

Gerald Scarfe: Sure. I mean, the ones that I did for The Wall were variations on the same theme. There was a wall, but I think I remember some creatures were popping out of the wall in different ways.

BD: There were a couple of promo albums at the time, such as Off The Wall, which had The Teacher prominently on the cover...

Gerald Scarfe: Yes, that's right.

BD: I hear you are working with Roger again on the staging of The Wall on Broadway.

Gerald Scarfe: Well, it's early days yet, but I've talked about it, yes.

BD: Will that be designing the sets, or costumes, or...

Gerald Scarfe: Nothing as concrete as that, yet, has emerged. So it's a little way off.

BD: Last thing I heard was that he was hoping to open it mid-2006, but I presume not, now! He's just brought out his opera, Ca Ira; if he went ahead with a full production of that, would you be interested in getting involved with it?

Gerald Scarfe: Well, of course, yes, but I think he'd probably want something totally different. I mean, we've worked together in the past, and really enjoyed it, but...

BD: You've obviously done a fair amount of work on stage, set design, and costuming. Have you got any more in the pipeline?

Gerald Scarfe: I've got another ballet coming up - I can't say what it is at the moment, because I'm very superstitious, that if I do say, it'll sink!

BD: You quickly got a reputation for expressing some of the more extreme views and emotions, being more truthful, with your savage satire. Do you think that age has mellowed your views of the world?

Gerald Scarfe: Well I don't feel it has. They say that age mellows people, but if you look through the book it doesn't seem to have done, to me. I seem to have attacked Bush and Blair as much as I attacked anybody else in the beginning.

And in many ways, I've been able to print more extreme drawings now than I did then. But, I think my style's changed slightly. I think in the old days I used to draw in a very detailed, intricate way, and now I draw in a simpler, more broader way. So, that's changed, really. I think the style... perhaps as one gets older, one gets simpler. One goes more directly for things. In the old days I seemed to draw every pimple and wart and hair, that I could see.

BD: Then you realised that you didn't need to see that in a drawing...

Gerald Scarfe: You don't really need that. I mean, I still do that to some extent in some of the drawings, but when I'm working for the newspapers, of course I hit as simply and as hard as possible because you've got to make a bold point and impact when you are working for the Sunday Times.

BD: Now that the work on the book is almost done, bar a few interviews and presentations, what's next for you? You're not thinking of retiring are you?

Gerald Scarfe: Oh god no! I couldn't - I just couldn't imagine not working! It would be so boring. I'm no good at holidays, for one thing. We went away for three weeks this year, and by the third week I was going spare! I not any good at lying by a pool... I can do it for a week, but then I get bored!

And I'm so lucky to be doing what I want to do, starting where I was as a sickly child. I know what it's like doing absolutely nothing, and being forced to do nothing. So I dread it, if I ever had to go back to the state of not working. So I can't see... it wouldn't be by MY wishes that that happens!

And the lucky thing about being an artist, of course, is that as long as you have a pencil and something to write on or draw on, a wall or a bit of old paper, you can keep going. It's not like a job where you have to have an office to go to, or if you are an actor you have to have a play, and you have to have a stage, and all that... a burnt stick and a wall, and off you go! [laughs]


Orders for Gerald's book, at time of writing at a good discount, can be placed through the following special links: Amazon.com (US/International), Amazon UK/Elsewhere, Canada, France, or Germany.

 
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