There’s a nice naughtiness in drawing a line between the Swedish artist Carl Larsson and the Sunday Express cartoonist ‘Giles’. (An additional niceness to find his first name, too, was Carl.) I grew up with those newspaper cartoons and the paperback annuals my dad routinely got as Christmas presents across the seventies, and whilst uncaring of their political tittering, I would care deeply that someone was able to, and did, depict everyday ordinariness and its objects so cleverly well. It’s what I wanted to do. The curve of a craning neck, the folds of a curtain, no matter how incidental to the gag, were things of a giddying talent.
Decades later I’m poring over the penned and watercoloured illustrations of Cal Larsson. I’m drawn to them first for the interiors; the interior life. I see through and in what I’ve heard described as ‘twee’, the real romanticism of a family and an age. I know also I’m gurgling (maybe even out loud) with pleasure at a way of life I’ve always held as the alternative to head for. A residential chaos that’s both overgrown and lovingly contained. These are the rooms and outbuildings of the houses of school friends; an Irish aunt who hoards and harvests: the freeing opposite of the unexplained neatness of my own childhood’s environment.
And I see the window with its panes, the row of unity plants; the confident line of an uncertain mouth, a jaw. The stove’s weight and bulk; the woman’s feet upon the chair, the chair upon the floor – their all-consuming blues so beautifully celebrated. The soft shadows of little sun. Big rooms accommodating lives lived expansively, right up to the end of the driveway.
I like this expressive figurativeness, its clever honesty: the skill of the draughtsperson illustrator knowing that framed lives must contain the incidentals of a life being lived.
Carl Larsson, Swedish artist (1853-1919)
Carl Giles OBE (‘Giles’), cartoonist (1916-1995)
See also, lines on John Hassall, Illustrator – here
Painting detail images snapped respectfully from my copy of ‘Carl Larsson’s Home, Family and Farm’, Floris Books, 2014