It seems fitting that as Tasmania’s long winter draws to a close, cartoonist, poet and cultural commentator Michael Leunig is coming to Launceston to share his world view.
Despite living just across the Bass Strait, Leunig has not been to Tasmania since he was a teenager and is interested to see what has changed in 60 years.
“I love to meet the people and get a sense of what is going on in the town or city,” he said.
The show – Hope in Dark Times: An Evening with Michael Leunig – is on at the Earl Arts Centre on Thursday and Friday nights.
His event includes live drawing and questions, with Leunig hoping to explore a number of topics via cartoons and conversations with his Launceston audiences.
Considering himself a “generalist” rather than an expert in any one area, Leunig, 73, said he was surprised he was asked to speak at public events because he felt he was just putting forward his own point of view.
“They are asking for my take [on the world]. I don’t have answers, but I do have a way of talking to people,” he said.
“Sometimes I am humbled to stand in front of an audience who have come out to see me.”
Everyone is their own peculiar joyful self.Michael Leunig
While he may be humbled that people are interested in his thoughts and views, Leunig’s seemingly simplistic cartoons actually speak volumes about humanity’s faults and follies.
“It’s not an instructive talk, I’m not a particular expert, but that’s the nature of editorial cartooning – looking at life,” he said.
“It’s more a poetic, lyrical account of what my life has taught me.”
His cartoons on the war on terror after the September 11 terrorist attack on the US proved a major turning point in his career, with his opposition pitting him against editors and political commentators.
While Leunig’s cartoons often err on the dark side of life, he believes most people have a joyful life, full of small everyday things that make them happy.
“Beyond politics and celebrity, people are trying to have a sweeter world going on in their homes,” he said.
“Everyone is their own peculiar joyful self.”
One of the topics Leunig is keen to discuss is creativity and how to live creatively, which he believes is a necessity.
“It’s essential for our sanity and health. There is a much greater pressure on individuals to achieve and measure up and get on top of things,” he said.
“Paradoxically we live in a time with people struggling with their state of mind and society around them.
“I want to open it up and make it accessible and validate doubts and struggles.”
He also touches on spirituality, or people’s ‘inner life’.
“It’s a general, open talk for the curious and the humane,” Leunig said.
“You don’t have to know everything, but we explore ideas based on experiences.”
Leunig is a self taught cartoonist and writer, who was inspired to publish his ideas during the Vietnam War.
Before then he had worked in factories and at meat works, admitting he “didn’t do well with school”.
“The Vietnam War caused a lot of political concern in my generation and I was caught up in the protest movement,” he said.
“I was making cartoons about war and human nature and found myself working for a Melbourne newspaper and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Now Leunig draws inspiration by what is going on around him, such as court cases, what is covered in the media and people he meets and then distills those experiences through his own creative works.
This distillation process is his way of commenting and analysing the conversations people are having – and the conversations he thinks we should be having.
“I think that’s what’s lacking in the media. It is very punitive and exposing, but I think we’re losing that capacity to look deeper,” he said.
An avid nature lover who enjoys walking in Melbourne’s parks and bushland, Leunig often depicts the healing abilities of the natural world in his works.
And then there is the forlorn duck, which Leunig considers a metaphor for so many things.
“A lot of my work is an array of symbols and metaphors,” he said.
Independent theatre company Stephen Beckett Productions is bringing Leunig to Launceston, with one show initially planned.
The first show on Friday sold out so another show was hastily added on Thursday.