OGUNQUIT – When people think of fine art, most picture an artist who spends weeks or months tending to every brushstroke, every subtle color variation.
Jim Morin rarely had that luxury of time.
In 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 has produced over 10,000 ink and pen drawings, nearly all within a daily deadline.
But just because he had a compressed schedule doesn’t make his work any less significant, 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, the forerunner of today’s editorial cartoons. “And I think it was a really underrated form for a long time.”
A chance meeting between her and Morin at a Fourth of July party last year led to an exhibition of his work this summer at the Ogunquit Museum, which includes both a selection of his cartoons and oil paintings he made outside of work.
“One of my goals as a director is to show different mediums and Jim’s work is such a great representation,” she said.
Morin, who retired in 2020 during the pandemic, has been coming to Maine since childhood in Massachusetts. He now lives in Ogunquit, just a few minutes’ walk from the Oceanside Art Museum.
His work has been shown in museums many times over the years, but this is a first in his adoptive state. The exhibition can be seen until October 31st.
“I’ve never really had a career retrospective,” Morin said during an interview at the museum last month. “It is certainly an honor to have such an exhibition.”
To curate Morin’s work, Lahikainen brought in Martha Kennedy, who was the longtime Curator of Pop and Graphics 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 many different aspects of his work that stand out. He is very imaginative and inventive and has been able to create various imaginative types of compositions over a long period of time.”
THE 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 Massachusetts Republican politics.
“He hated Ted Kennedy,” Morin said, referring to the longtime Democratic senator who influenced state and national politics for half a century.
Morin said he did not inherit his father’s beliefs.
Even as a child, he developed a love and talent for drawing, which continued into school. He studied painting and drawing at Syracuse University in the early 1970s as the Watergate scandal swept the nation. It was a good time to get into editorial cartoons, and Morin soon found himself working 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 satire, including the work of Honoré-Victorin Daumier, a French painter and printmaker who provided sharp commentary 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 were hiring editorial cartoonists. That is no longer the case.
Morin said the town is in the middle of nowhere and he has no supplies. So he and his then-boss went to a hardware store that, for some inexplicable reason, had boxes and boxes of Esterbrook nibs.
“These were the best money could buy.[Peanuts comics creator]Charles Schultz used them,” Morin said.
He bought a few but then went back and bought the rest the store had in stock. He still uses Esterbrook tips.
Morin only stayed in Texas for a short time before moving to a larger newspaper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, but didn’t stay long. An opportunity to move to an even bigger market, Miami, came in 1978. Morin was just 25 when he joined the Miami Herald. In the same city, at the competing Miami News, another cartoonist, Don Wright, had won a Pulitzer — journalism’s top prize — and would win another.
Morin said he felt the pressure immediately. There were also many other cartoonists who did great work – Tony Auth of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Patrick Oliphant of the Washington Star, and the Washington Post’s legendary Herb Block, who helped syndicate.
“Even the bad cartoonists did a good job,” Morin said. “But my goal wasn’t to copy other people or just to become friends with a style.
“It really took about two decades for things to really fall into place for me.”
Morin has lived through eight different presidential administrations, delivering pointed commentary along the way. By the 1980s, his cartoon was syndicated, meaning it reached a wider audience than just South Florida.
His first Pulitzer came in 1996, although he had been a finalist twice before. He slacked off with his second two decades later in 2017.
Almost always, Morin said, he would decide what he wanted to say – what message he wanted his cartoon to convey – and base his drawings on that.
“When you’re developing, if you’re frustrated, you don’t have time to tear it down and start over,” he said. “But you develop confidence, and with the form comes a looseness.”
EXHIBIT WITH A MESSAGE
Though he’s covered pretty much every major topic throughout his career, a common thread throughout Morin’s cartoons – from the 1980s through the 2010s – was climate change and environmental protection. Unfortunately, the warnings in Morin’s cartoons from the ’80s might be published today.
When it came time for Kennedy to narrow down his 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 as a whole have been overlooked in the art world.
“It’s not as universally appreciated as it should be,” she said. “But I think it has a great story. Satirical art has a long tradition.”
Morin said he was impressed with how Kennedy chose the cartoons that would hang in the Ogunquit Museum.
“She came to my house. I had boxes and boxes and I said, ‘It’s all yours,'” he said with a chuckle. “I was fine with whatever they wanted to do.”
The environmental protection theme also went well with his paintings, which are also part of the exhibition, mainly landscapes and seascapes, as well as some cityscapes. Two things stand out: there are no people depicted on them, although the presence of people is clearly there; and the sky is often grey, even angry.
“The same process goes on in painting as in editorial cartooning,” he said. “The same compositional laws apply.”
Morin admits he’s passionate about climate change, maybe even more so now.
“I live in a house that overlooks the ocean and what I see is just stunning,” he said.
Morin came to Maine since he was a kid with parents who had an apartment in Kennebunkport.
As adults, he and his wife Danielle fell even more in love with the place.
Many years ago, when they were discussing retirement and considering where to settle, they both said Maine.
Reflecting on his checkered career while viewing his work on museum walls, Morin acknowledged that while editorial cartooning has been an overlooked art form for decades, it’s also a dying one. When he left the Miami Herald in 2020, the newspaper did not replace him.
“There are reasons why not many do it,” he said. “You have to have a lot of interests, a lot of places to draw, and then you have to know how to draw well and quickly.”
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