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Woolcock exhibition on ‘an artist and a man’

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A poet, a musician and sometime actor.

Many people only know Peter Woolcock for his celebrated political cartooning.

However, an exhibition chronicling his life has drawn attention to his other talents.

Peter Woolcock: A Tribute opened to the public at the Bermuda National Gallery yesterday after gallerists felt the Island needed to know more.

Sophie Cressall, the gallery's curator, and Mr Woolcock met twice to discuss the exhibition before his passing — a display that would focus solely on his children's illustrations, which were his “passion”.

After his untimely death, she said she was left with a conundrum. He wanted to show his children's works, but people of Bermuda knew him as a political cartoonist.

That is when she changed course and elected to exhibit Mr Woolcock “as an artist and a man”. His daughter, Diana Andrew, had made her privy to his workspace and “boxes and boxes of sketchbooks, jottings and photographs”.

Born in Argentina, Mr Woolcock volunteered for the Royal Tank Brigade in the Second World War, an experience that produced sketchbooks depicting a life at war.

“This is the magic,” Ms Cressall said of the comics drawn between 1944 and 1947. “It's one of the most provocative sketchbooks I've ever looked through.

“Full of satire, yet it fully respects the horrors of war.”

The pair also uncovered drawings by a 15-year-old Mr Woolcock of Adolf Hitler. All of his earlier works are signed “Sam”, a childhood nickname.

Mr Woolcock's close friend and collaborator, Andrew Stevenson, worked with him on a number of children's books.

Mr Stevenson said: “It was the tail wagging the dog. No longer were we discussing the plot when he would present me with a printed sheet of paper with his ideas.

“The reason he did some of these stories was purely because he had the illustrations in his mind and he just needed the text to bring out the illustrations.

“My claim is to the written stuff but he gradually started usurping my territory.”

Calling him “absolutely brilliant”, the filmmaker and conservationist described him as a perfectionist — very thoughtful, demanding, yet meticulous.

He recalled falling into “fits of laughter” as the two of them discussed, at length, Mr Woolcock's wishes for his funeral.

Ms Cressall said he lived through his characters.

“I realised this wasn't Sophie Cressall and Peter Woolcock, I was speaking to his characters,” she said when she caught a glimpse of his acting capabilities.

“He said, ‘As an illustrator, unless you can act, how do you make those characters come to life?'”

According to his daughter, he was highly critical of his works.

“He was an incredibly humble man when it came to his talent,” Ms Cressall said.

Ms Cressall described the fastidiousness of his methods. He would collect and file pictures of his subjects from every angle, as a reference point when working on his famous Woppened series.

“It really is a chronicle of our politics,” she said. “It was revolutionary. Things were starting to change and he was documenting it.

“We now have an archive of our political history from 1980-2014 and it's a treasure for our nation to have it.”

Former Royal Gazette editor Bill Zuill said: “Like many exemplary people in their field, he worked very hard on it and really wanted to be sure he'd gotten it right.

“He really liked some of the American and British cartoonists who really skewer their subjects, but I don't think in fact it was his personality.

“He had a gentle humour rather than a vicious one. I think he was very well suited to Bermuda.

“Particularly for politicians — you hadn't really arrived until you'd been a subject of one of his cartoons.”

“Although he might find other people amusing, he never wanted to humiliate or embarrass. And I don't think he ever did.

The works are due to be auctioned in June.

Showcase of talent: the Peter Woolcock exhibition opened yesterday at the Bermuda National Gallery (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Chronicle of a life: the gallery features the work of Peter Woolcock (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Colourful display: some of Peter Woolcock's artistry (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Political cartoonist: how people remember Peter Woolcock (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published January 23, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated January 23, 2016 at 7:56 am)

Woolcock exhibition on ‘an artist and a man’

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