On Monday evening the popular satirical illustrator/cartoonist, Barry Blitt, made an appearance at the Johns Hopkins University’s “Center for Visual Arts.”
It was held on campus in the Mattin Center of the F. Ross Jones Building, at North Charles & 33rd St., in Baltimore, MD.
The event, titled: “Barry Blitt: In One Eye and Out the Other,” was hosted by Craig Hankin, the director of JHU’s Center for Visual Arts, before a capacity audience. Besides working as an instructor at the school, Hankin is also an author, musician and a painter. In his salad days, he was the co-founder of Baltimore’s “City Paper.” (1)
At the moment, “The New Yorker” magazine is Blitt’s home base. To put it mildly, he’s been on a roll with one outrageous, on target, front cover illustration after another.
One of Blitt’s latest funny-as-hell efforts was dated March 6, 2017. It showed Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, as an iconic monocled character, who turns his piercing eye toward a small, fluttering, mouthy-looking butterfly in the upper left hand corner of the cover. Who do you think it is? Why, it’s America’s pseudo-hero himself, President Donald “Make America Great Again” Trump!
Some history is needed here. The first cover of “The New Yorker,” which now goes back 92 years, featured a monocled character k/a “Eustace Tilley,” by artist Rea Irvin. Thus, Putin’s transformation into “Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley.”
When Blitt goes to bed at night, I’m sure he thanks the good Lord for the election of Donald Trump as president. The comedy-loving “Saturday Night Live” show on NBC-TV is in the same boat. Satirists and Republican-bashers alike love Trump and his off-the-wall antics.
Why do they love him? Because, without trying, Trump is a buffoon of a character “Writ large.” You don’t have to make anything up! Just read the paper everyday, and his crazy tweets. It’s all right there.
Blitt is a native of Quebec, Canada, and currently calls Connecticut home. Michael Cavna of “Comic Riffs,” (02.24.17), labeled Blitt a “topical artist extraordinaire.”
During the program, Blitt narrated a slide show of his work over the years for “The New Yorker,” “The New York Times,” “Vanity Fair,” “Rolling Stone,” and other leading publications. He jokingly said that he’s not crazy about making public appearances, since he “doesn’t have nice pants to wear!”
Blitt, who’s built on the short side, a la comedian Jackie Mason, got started doing political illustrations, back in the 80s, during the reign of President Ronald Reagan. This was around the time, he added, when Reagan was “losing his donuts.”
One of Blitt’s personal fave’ sketches of Trump didn’t make the final cut. It showed him as a statue, like the one of President Andrew Jackson in the middle of Lafayette Park, with lot of pigeons pooping on him. Oh, too stinky!
Like many of us, Blitt said he was “shocked” when Trump won the presidency. (Yeah, and so was Hillary Clinton!)
Another of Blitt’s “New Yorker” illustrations that I personally liked a lot showed a befuddled Dubya, Condi Rice, Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney and Donald “Rumi” Rumsfeld in the White House’s Oval Office. The room is filled with water right up to their shoulders. This was during the tragedy of “Hurricane Katrina,” which the inept, arrogant Bush-Cheney Gang badly mismanaged – some would argue – they “criminally” mismanaged.
For years, Blitt’s has also done illustrations for the “NY Times’” Op Ed pundit, Frank Rich. Blitt is also an author and has won numerous awards for his creative artistry over the years.
Of course, you can’t do what Blitt does without stepping on a few toes. His 2008 illustration/cover for the “The New Yorker” is a case in point. It was entitled “The Politics of Fear,” and it satirized the false rumors about Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, as he was running for president.
It showed President Obama, in the WH, dressed in traditional Muslim clothes, and the First Lady, Michelle, in combat boots, with an assault rifle hanging over her shoulder. And, to top it all off, Blitt portrayed an American flag burning in the fire place. Yikes! Even the ex-49ers Q/B Colin Kaepernick (who deigned not to stand for the National Anthem before NFL games) wouldn’t go that far.
The illustration was quickly condemned as “tasteless and offensive” by a White House spokesman. It was also roundly criticized by Sen. John McCain (Rep-AZ), among others card-carrying conservatives.
Well, controversy comes with the territory in Blitt’s business. It took some time for folks to take his illustration “as a joke.” Some, however – and this is understandable when you touch on that ethnic/religious “third rail” – just didn’t see it that way. To be honest, they probably never will. Beauty, like comedy, as they say, “is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Finally, Blitt is a very entertaining speaker. He also enjoyed the Q&A part of the program and dishing out some pretty good one-liners for the audience to laugh along with him.
Footnote – (1) By way of full disclosure, this writer, way back in the early 80s, penned a column for the “City Paper.” It was tagged – “The Billy Club.”