May 13th, 2012 by Ben
Many Irish people have seen the work of Ernest Kavanagh, but few know his name. He was the main cartoonist for The Irish Worker, Jim Larkin’s newspaper, and his satirical depictions of William Martin Murphy and the employers of Dublin during the 1913 lockout have illustrated many a documentary and textbook. Artist of the Revolution is a well-written and informative account of the life and work of Kavanagh. It brings together 35 of his cartoons, reproducing them alongside short essays which help to contextualize each one. Curry also reproduces a collection of contemporary illustrations by other artists ‘in order to provide a visual comparison and contrast to Ernest Kavanagh’s work.’
Born in Dublin in 1884, Kavanagh was listed in the 1901 census as an unemployed artist, and in 1912 he was working as an insurance clerk for the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU). This was also the year he began producing cartoons for The Irish Worker, replacing the original cartoonist who was named Byrne. On 25 April 1916, Kavanagh was shot dead outside the front door of Liberty Hall, most likely by a British sniper.
Kavanagh published his work under his initials, “E.K.” and proved to be as popular as the Irish Worker itself. “Unlike the paper’s earlier artistic contributor’ writes Curry, ‘[Kavanagh] recognised quite clearly that more could be achieved by satirising villains instead of glorifying heroes, a realisation that gave his work greater vitality and power.’
Artist of the Revolution is a fitting tribute to one of the forgotten political artists of Irish working class. It is a testimony to Kavanagh’s work that it still manages to hit home in its depiction of the rank hypocrisy and verbal gymnastics of the Irish monied class. It also brings into sharp focus the sycophantic gush of Irish journalism today - a journalism too scared to mock the powerful, let alone investigate them.
[Artist of the Revolution is published by Mercier Press, RPP €12.99. See here for details.]