Posy Simmonds: A Retrospective opens at London’s House of Illustration on Friday (24th May), running until 15th September. Co-curated by Paul Gravett, author of the recently released Posy Simmonds monograph from Thames & Hudson, it’s the first major British exhibition of the celebrated comic artist and graphic novelist.
Posy Simmonds once described her job on a census form as “a visual engineer”. Her extraordinary precision of drawing, her powers of observation and her sharp but well tempered wit have made her one the Britain’s most sophisticated innovators, renowned especially for expanding the scope and subtlety of comics.
Since the early 1970s, when she began sending up Guardian readers in her long-running comic strip for the paper that became Mrs Weber’s Diary, Simmonds’ everyday heroines have captured the popular imagination.
Her sharp satire and progressive female characters have defined a career spanning 50 years and the exhibition features her early-career pastiches, iconic cartoon strips for The Guardian and children’s books such as Lulu and the Chocolate Wedding and Fred, which became an Oscar-nominated film in 1996.
Born in 1945 and growing up in Berkshire, Posy Simmonds, who now lives in London, drew “all the time” from an early age. The exhibition includes an early cartoon called “Marilyn Monroe Goes Shooting” and a pastiche of Woman’s Own, with the cover line “he only married you for your money”.
“Drawing was the best thing,” she told Paul Gravett in a wide-ranging interview for London’s Evening Standard last week. “There was an artist in the village who was incredibly kind and taught children at her home. She treated us like proper artists, gave us nice paper and proper paint. It made one think, ‘I want to be an artist.’” She once hid behind a tombstone to watch local painter Stanley Spencer at work until he bribed her with sweets to go away.
She has become a social pariah, but doesn’t much care. Between one Christmas and the next, she has sullied the reputation of a West End gallery and has acquired a conviction for fraud, a suspended sentence and a bank balance drained by lawsuits. On the scale of villainy, fraud seems to Cassandra a rather paltry offence – her own crime involving “no violence, no weapon, no dead body”.
But in Cassandra’s basement, her young ex-lodger, Nicki, has left a surprise, something which implies at least violence and probably a body… Something which forces Cassandra out of her rich enclave and onto the streets. Not those local streets paved with gold and lit with festive glitter, but grimmer, darker places, where she must make the choice between self-sacrifice and running for her life.
Posy Simmonds (The Illustrators) by Paul Gravett is the first book to explore Simmonds’s life and work from her early childhood to the present day. In a series of interviews with Paul Gravett she offered insights into her creative process and provided unprecedented access to her ‘workroom’ and archives containing sketchbooks and rare or never-before-seen artworks. A portrait emerges of Posy Simmonds as a chronicler and critic of contemporary British society and a storyteller in words and pictures of rare perception and humanity.
• Posy Simmonds: A Retrospective 10.00am – 5.30pm daily, 24th May to 15th Septmber 2019, The House of Illustration, 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London, N1C 4BH | Full details of the exhibition here on the House of Illustration web site