Pulitzer-winning cartoonist’s work goes from newspaper page to Ogunquit museum exhibit
OGUNQUIT – When people think of fine art, most imagine an artist fussing for weeks or months over every brushstroke, every subtle color variation.
Jim Morin rarely had this luxury of time.
During more than four decades as an editorial cartoonist – much of it at the Miami Herald, where he twice won the Pulitzer Prize – Morin estimates he produced more than 10,000 pen and ink drawings, almost all within a daily timeframe.
But just because he had a compressed timeline, his work is no less meaningful, according to Amanda Lahikainen, executive director of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.
“It’s the first truly democratic art form,” said Lahikainen, who wrote a book on the impact of 17th and 18th century satirical art, a precursor to today’s editorial cartoons. “And I think that’s been an underrated form for a very long time.”
A chance meeting between her and Morin at a 4th of July party last year led to an exhibition of her work this summer at the Ogunquit Museum which includes both a selection of her cartoons and oil paintings. he has done outside of work.
“One of my goals as a director is to show different mediums, and Jim’s work is such a beautiful representation,” she said.
Morin, who retired in 2020 during the pandemic, has come to Maine since growing up in Massachusetts. He now lives in Ogunquit, within walking distance of the Oceanside Museum of Art.
His work has been shown in museums many times over the years, but this is a first in his adopted country. The exhibition is presented until October 31.
“I’ve never really had a career retrospective,” Morin said last month in an interview at the museum. “It is certainly an honor to have an exhibition like this.”
To organize Morin’s work, Lahikainen enlisted Martha Kennedy, who was a longtime curator of pop and graphic arts at the Library of Congress and was already familiar with Morin’s work. She met him when he won the prestigious Herblock Prize in 2007 and accepted the award at the Library of Congress.
“I think he’s among the best of the best,” she said of Morin. “There are a lot of different aspects of his work that stand out. He is very imaginative and inventive and has been able to create various kinds of imaginative composition over a long period of time.
CAREER PATH OF A CARTOONIST
Morin grew up primarily in the small Boston suburb of Wayland.
His father was a staunch conservative and involved in Republican politics in Massachusetts.
“He hated Ted Kennedy,” Morin said, referring to the longtime Democratic senator who influenced national and state politics for half a century.
Morin said he did not inherit his father’s beliefs.
He developed a love and aptitude for drawing as a child, which continued in school. He studied painting and drawing at Syracuse University in the early 1970s when the Watergate scandal engulfed the nation. It was a good time to try his hand at editorial cartooning, and Morin soon found himself at the college newspaper five days a week.
He also spent a semester abroad in London, where he learned more about the history of graphic art satire, including the work of Honoré-Victorin Daumier, a French painter and printmaker who offered sharp commentaries on social and political life, but was also revered as an artist.
Morin’s first job out of college was at a small daily newspaper in Beaumont, Texas, back when newspapers large and small had editorial cartoonists on staff. This is no longer the case.
Morin said the town was in the middle of nowhere and he had no supplies. So he and his boss at the time went to a hardware store that, somewhat inexplicably, had boxes and boxes of Esterbrook pen nibs.
“They were the best you could buy. (Peanuts comic book creator) Charles Schultz used them,” Morin said.
He bought a few but then came back and bought the rest the store had in stock. He still uses Esterbrook points.
Morin only stayed in Texas for a short time before moving to a larger newspaper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, but did not stay there long. A chance to move to an even bigger market, Miami, presented itself in 1978. Morin was only 25 when he joined the Miami Herald. In the same city, during the Miami News competition, another cartoonist, Don Wright, had won a Pulitzer – the first prize for journalism – and was going to win another.
Morin said he felt the pressure right away. Many other cartoonists were also doing good work – Tony Auth of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Patrick Oliphant of the Washington Star and the legendary Herb Block of the Washington Post, which was in syndication.
“Even bad cartoonists did good work,” Morin said. “But my goal was not to copy others or to familiarize myself with a single style.
“It really took about two decades for things to really gel for me.”
Morin has lived and provided insightful commentary for eight different presidential administrations. By the 1980s, his cartoon was syndicated, which meant it reached a wider audience than just South Florida.
His first Pulitzer came in 1996, although he had been a runner-up twice before. He followed that up two decades later, in 2017, with his second.
Almost always, says Morin, he decided what he wanted to say – what message he wanted his cartoon to convey – and built his drawings around it.
“When you develop it, if you get frustrated, you don’t have time to tear it up and start over,” he said. “But you build confidence, and there’s a looseness that comes with form.”
EXPOSE WITH A MESSAGE
Although he covered just about every major topic in his career, one thread that kept recurring in Morin’s cartoons – from the 1980s to the 2010s – was climate change and environmentalism. Unfortunately, the caveats of Morin’s cartoons from the 80s could be published today.
When it came time for Kennedy to cut back on her career, she didn’t just want a random collection. She wanted the exhibition to say something. Everything was fine there.
“It was tough because there was so much great work,” she said. “But what a wonderful situation to be in.”
Kennedy agreed with Lahikainen that editorial cartoons, and satire in general, have been neglected in the art world.
“It’s not as widely appreciated as it should be,” she said. “But I think it has a great story. There is a whole tradition of satirical art.
Morin said he was impressed with how Kennedy selected the cartoons that would hang in the Ogunquit Museum.
” She came to my place. I had boxes and boxes and I said, ‘It’s all yours,'” he said with a laugh. “I was okay with everything they wanted to do.”
The theme of environmentalism also goes well with his paintings, which are also part of the exhibition, mainly landscapes and seascapes, as well as cityscapes. Two things stand out: there are no people represented in them, although the presence of people is clearly there; and the sky is often grey, even angry.
“The same process goes into painting that goes into editorial cartoons,” he said. “The same laws of composition apply.”
Morin admits he’s passionate about the subject of climate change, maybe even more so now.
“I live in a house that overlooks the ocean and what I see is breathtaking,” he said.
Morin had been coming to Maine since he was a child with parents, who had a home in Kennebunkport.
He and his wife, Danielle, fell in love with the place even more as adults.
When they were talking about retirement many years ago and thinking about where they wanted to settle, they both said Maine.
As Morin contemplated his storied career while viewing his work on the museum walls, he recognized that while editorial cartooning has been a neglected art form for decades, it is also on its way out. When he left the Miami Herald in 2020, the newspaper did not replace him.
“There are reasons why not many people do it,” he said. “You have to have a lot of interests, a lot of places to draw from, and then you have to be able to draw well and quickly.”
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