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.”
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.
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