Drawing in a Time of Fear & LiesWeekend

Filling the Swamp

The churning morass of the Trump administration makes a 140-year-old political cartoon surprisingly germane.

Andrew Ellis Johnson, “Swamp Accommodations VI” (2017), ink on paper, 11 x 11.5 inches

One of my childhood heroes was Thomas Nast, whose elaborate, allegorical, political cartoons stimulated my imagination and rewarded prolonged reflection. Despite his elaborately staged and clearly labeled figures, the invention in his fabulist imagery left so much to the imagination.

Nast’s “The American Ganges (The Priests and The Children),” first published on September 30, 1871, depicted Irish Roman Catholic Bishops as crocodiles in an amphibious assault on multi-ethnic children trapped on a beach.  Nast’s criticism was of the strongly pro-Papist ultramontane leadership, who sought public funding for sectarian schools.  The drawing was published again four years later with slight alterations (changing the label on a basilica-like building from “Tammany Hall” to “Political Roman Catholic Church”) to enhance its topicality.  The central image, I would argue, is just as germane today — to illustrate the scandals of clerical pedophilia and other corruptions of power.

Leaking, draining, filling the holes, and emptying the basin are political metaphors that have been sloshing around of late. While “Swamp Accommodations VI,” an ink wash drawing from the ongoing cycle DRAINwas made earlier this year, the flurry of feuds and churning morass in the Trump administration unfortunately make its relevance perpetually current. In the language of ink, incompetent statecraft’s stream of lies is sooty water, awaiting sewage treatment.

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