By Dave Barton
That instantly recognizable signature.
The O an open mouth yawping in protest.
The dot of the I like a projectile being thrown.
The remaining letters leaning forward to attack.
You don't even have to know his work to recognize political cartoonist Pat Oliphant is a confrontational individual. Just a glance at his John Hancock and you'll see he is.
Not that that's a bad thing.
After fifty plus years in the newspaper business and over forty since he won a Pulitzer Prize, Oliphant may be a truculent liberal, but he's also got enough years on him and he's seen and heard enough despicable behavior that his work bitch-slaps both the right and the left. Pitiless in his observations, the prints, sketches, original ink cartoons and bronze sculptures on display at Fullerton Art Museum for the next few days are a must-see.
“Leadership: Oliphant Cartoons and Sculpture from the Bush Years” covers the tragic eight-year legacy of the Bush Administration (2001-2009), with informative historical reminders of the war crimes and general incompetence from that time period. Those Illegal and immoral acts, great and small, are posted throughout in this solidly-curated (if overly defensive) show, amid over-sized quotes about the First Amendment as an apparent deterrent against any potentially conservative OC backlash.
The museum hasn't burnt down, yet, so what's inside is a wet dream for people fascinated by politics, as well as an infuriating reminder of why so many of us still suffer from what conservative Charles Krauthammer termed Bush Derangement Syndrome. Bush drove liberals batshit and if for some reason you or a family member have forgotten why, an hour in the exhibition will quickly remind them.
Missing WMDs, Hurricane Katrina, “Mission Accomplished,” Abu Ghraib, 9/11, Halliburton, the ignoring of the Geneva Conventions, Hans Blix and “the bastards in Washington,” extraordinary rendition, black prisons, Alberto Gonzales, Walter Reed Hospital, Karl Rove…the litany of those horrible years summed up in dozens of pen and ink drawings with one startling image after another.
The Bush Electorate as a headless monster being led off a cliff by a tiny Bush in a cowboy hat. Bush at a meat grinder, inviting Iraqis to jump in. War-ravaged civilians in a Spirit of '76 pose. Sunnis and Shiites threatening to kill each other for democracy. Fat cats drinking wine talking about tax cuts. Bush burglarizing a home and asking the dog whether he's going to make a “big fuss”, with the dog answering, “Oh, no, sir–we are a Democrat.” Bush talking to a church full of empty chairs. Dick Cheney shooting someone in the face and then walking away saying, “So. Give him a medal. Tell him he has the thanks of a grateful nation. And tell him to shut up about it.”
The less Bush-specific of the cartoons hit just as closely to home: Mexican labor building the “Great Wall of America” for clueless white men. Bishops wearing sumptuous gold and jewel-encrusted robes telling Catholic molestation victims to “Beat it. We're bankrupt.” Hillary Clinton throwing a temper tantrum that Obama is winning the black vote she feels entitled to. A mini Mahmoud Ahmadinejad being eyed by a massive, hungry British lion. A small child without a leg or hands, simply titled “Memorial for a Small War.”
A meme featuring a quote from Albert Einstein that made the rounds of Facebook a few weeks past seems apropos: “If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself.” Oliphant's brilliance with a solitary image and a few elegant titles slices through the bullshit and reveals the truth to the six-year-old in all of us.
“Leadership: Oliphant Cartoons and Sculpture from the Bush Years” at Fullerton Art Museum, 301 North Pomona Avenue, Fullerton, 714-738-6545. Open Tues thru Sun 12-4pm, Thurs from 12-8. Closed Mon. http://www.cityoffullerton.com/depts/museum/ Thru January 6 . $4.