A meeting of minds

February 13, 2014 in Events, News

Kasia Kowalska reports from the opening of Calman Meets Freud at the Freud Museum in Hampstead, London

"I hope I'm not boring you."  © Mel Calman @Procartoonists.org

“I hope I’m not boring you.” © Mel Calman @Procartoonists.org

The first thing you notice as you join the small gathering of family, friends and colleagues of Mel Calman at the Freud Museum is the unreserved warmth with which they talk about him.

It soon becomes apparent that he must have been a generous and engaging man and that he inspired love and loyalty in those who got to know him.

His daughter Claire Calman, who co-curated the exhibition with her sister Stephanie Calman, called it a “real labour of love” and remarked that it coincides with the 20th anniversary of Mel Calman’s death.

“Everything about Mel is still in sharp focus after 20 years” said the Times political cartoonist Peter Brookes, who worked with Calman in the 1990s. “His gruff bonhomie, his decency and kindness.”

Sir Peter Stothard, former Times editor with Peter Brookes, editorial cartoonist at the paper © Kasia Kowalska @ Procartoonists.org

Sir Peter Stothard, former Times editor with Peter Brookes, editorial
cartoonist at the newsaper © Kasia Kowalska @ Procartoonists.org

The theme of psychology is explored in the exhibition and it reflects on both therapy and mental health, but the cartoons also explore the nature of relationships and intricacies of our private lives. Lisa Appignanesi, chair of trustees at the Freud Museum, said that it was “particularly wonderful to have Calman at the museum as Freud loved jokes“.

If you knew nothing about Mel Calman except for his cartoons, you would already know that he was funny, thoughtful and deeply interested in people and their inner lives. Peter Brookes called Calman’s cartoons “deceptively simple”.

Calman’s cartoons snap what one may be thinking or feeling into a surprisingly crisp form and clinch it with a witty, singular statement. They say that it’s OK not to be OK.

His “little man” who sometimes feels unloved and often put upon, unfit to tackle all of life’s problems, is prone to melancholy and depression. This was also true of Calman himself.

"Are you suffering from too much life again?" © Mel Calman @ Procartoonists.org

“Are you suffering from too much life again?”
© Mel Calman @ Procartoonists.org

Sir Peter Stothard, who was his editor at The Times, said: “Mel was a cynical realist, a laughing pessimist — a perfect fit for the Freud Museum.”

Among the cartoons and publications on display is a large collection of objects from the family’s private collection including personal letters, notes and the famous B5 pencils that became Calman’s medium of choice.

Cartooning permeated Calman’s life and he used it as a means of communication that stretched beyond his professional career. One object from the collection is a drawing on an envelope addressed to his young daughters at an imaginary address. It features a cartoon stamp and, in the top left corner, the word “AirMel”.

Calman Meets Freud runs until 16 March

3 responses to A meeting of minds

  1. In my twenties I can recall dropping some Punch work off at his Lamb’s Conduit Street gallery and being ushered in by his longtime assistant, Pat Huntley, to his studio at the back to say hello. He was at work at his drawing table but took the time to chat. Happy memories.

  2. It certainly sounds like he was a good bloke. I really enjoyed his autobiography, which was called, rather brilliantly, What Else Do you Do? 

  3. He was a very nice chap and quite as helpful to youngsters as Pete says. Sad that he was transferred from the world too soon.

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