News Column

From political cartoons to watercolors

May 24, 2014

By William Smith, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

May 24--After Grant Wood, Brian Duffy may be one of Iowa's most famous artists, though you've probably seen his work in a newspaper rather than an art gallery.

Duffy spent 25 years as the front-page cartoonist for the Des Moines Register and now has entered the free-wheeling territory of freelance work and art galleries. His newest exhibit is hanging in the Art Center on Jefferson Street, where he'll be on hand to discuss his work during a reception from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today.

"It's going to be an exhibit of the cartoons I've done over the last four or five years and some of the watercolors I've been doing," he said.

Those watercolor paintings depict the kind of rural Iowa scenes Duffy has encountered repeatedly during his years of cycling. Being an avid cyclist and former RAGBRAI host, Duffy has spent hours staring at Woodesque landscapes. He prefers the quiet of gravel roads over the noise and danger that comes from riding on pavement, having lost several friends to biking accidents over the years due to careless drivers.

"You've got the Snake Alley Criterium going on, and I've got some RAGBRAI cartoons," Duffy said. "When I was with the (Des Moines) Register, I would draw cartoons of what I saw out there. I have some bike art posters that I've done over the years, some editorial cartoons and some watercolors I've been putting together for the last eight or 10 years."

Duffy has been fascinated with cartoon art since early childhood and would spend hours copying comic books when he was in second grade. As he got older, Duffy developed an interest in politics and history, making him a perfect fit for the high school newspaper.

He knew he wanted to be a political cartoonist, but the profession already was changing.

"Even back in the '70s, afternoon newspapers were starting to struggle, and the opening for editorial cartoonists were pretty rare," he said. "I got into the profession at the tail end of opportunity. It's a situation where someone had to die or retire for an opening to become available."

As the years went by, Duffy watched his job grow smaller and smaller. Literally.

"When I left the (Des Moines) Register, they shrunk the cartoon down to a postage size," he said.

That didn't stop Duffy from plying his trade, though, and he now draws Iowa-related cartoons for his own statewide syndicate of about 30 newspapers, which includes The Hawk Eye. His cartoons are featured Wednesdays and Saturdays on the editorial page. King Features Syndicate has syndicated his national and international cartoons for more than 20 years, and he also draws for the alternative Cityview newspaper in Des Moines. Though he's a native of Milwaukee, Duffy has made his home in West Des Moines for a number of years, building a reputation for his editorial cartoons.

"Instead of looking at another newspaper and going somewhere else, I wanted to stay in Iowa and try a different venture," he said.

That's how Duffy ended up founding his own company, Brian Duffy Cartoons. The watercolor paintings are just a hobby for now, but he has been getting positive reactions. Duffy has to follow the news to stay on top of his political cartoons, and the paintings allow him to relax and re-create what he sees in front of him. It's a completely different process.

"(The paintings) gave me the opportunity to come to Burlington, and when I'm down there, I'll pick up some ideas," he said. "I think this is going to be pretty interesting. I used to go to Snake Alley years ago, and I like that part of the state."

Duffy is a two-time winner at the World Hunger Media Awards and has won the Clarion Award, among others. He has produced two collections of work, "A Decade of Duffy" and "More Duffy," and is working on a book tentatively titled "A Cartoonist's Guide to the Iowa Caucuses."

His exhibit will be at the Art Center through June 29. For more information, call the Art Center at (319) 754-8069.


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Source: Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA)

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