Q & A with Michael Leunig

Q & A with Michael Leunig
Fifty years of Mr. Curly and the Direction-Finding Duck
12 November 2015

With a career spanning fifty years, artist Michael Leunig needs little introduction—his cartoons are imprinted on the Australian consciousness.

On Sunday 22 November 2015, Leunig will be joining us at the Library to discuss his latest collected volume of works, The Wayward Leunig: Cartoons That Wandered Off. A companion to 2012’s The Essential Leunig, this volume features another 400 insightful, relevant and beautiful pieces from across the breadth of Leunig’s career.

Leunig cartoon of Mr. Curly with the Direction-Finding Duck on his head

Michael Leunig, Calendar Portrait, Penguin Random House

What kind of child were you?

I'm told I was in a world of my own, happily self-occupied, dreamy and contented in my own company. I saw fairies in my garden and was afraid of an invasion by foreign soldiers. World War II had just ended.

Do you recall your earliest drawings?

I don't remember my earliest drawings—art materials for children were scarce back then. I drew on the footpath with chalk and charcoal. I copied images from the Arthur Mee Children's Encyclopaedia in black lead pencil.

Cover of The Wayward Leunig

The Wayward Leunig: Cartoons That Wandered Off book cover

How would you describe your latest collection?

Some of the cartoons in this collection are funny, I trust, some dark, some delightful; others are dubious, poignant and poetic, and there are those that are quite mad or incomprehensible—but all are in a way heartfelt and interesting to the soul, I believe, and hopefully of some improbable or unknowable value to the wayward human spirit.

Have you always had your own world view?

Yes, I imagine so. I started out with a sensual experience of my world.

Impressions, textures, noises, sparkling light, pleasure and pain… The sensuality of personal experience probably remains a vital part of my world view. It has been called the felt life. One feels the painful state of the world and yearns innocently for universal beauty, health and peace—but in time one learns to work as calmly as possible with the appalling realities of humanity. A world view is probably an expression of self.

Where do your spiritual beliefs stem from?

I don't think I have spiritual beliefs in the structured sense—but I believe in the absolute necessity of spirit and a healthy spiritual life. It grew inside me by itself (that is surely the very nature of spirit) and instinctively I protected and nourished it. I also absorbed spirituality by osmosis. Perhaps my natural spirit was recognised and left alone by my parents and allowed to flourish freely when I was a child—my unique inner life was given their blessing.

What, in your opinion, is the best of human emotions?

I'm not sure about the best of human emotions but I value these qualities in people: kindness, forgiveness, warmth, humour, eagerness, generosity, humility, patience, lyricism, flexibility, openness, skilfulness, authenticity, daring, magnanimity, equanimity and dexterity.

Leunig cartoon of Mr. Curly holding the Direction-Finding Duck

Michael Leunig, Self-portrait, Penguin Random House

Which is the most difficult to capture visually?

The spirit of the times. The mood of the world. The state of the heart. The condition of nature. One's own feelings. A useful and valuable idea that awakens and nourishes another useful and valuable idea in somebody else.

What's the worst bit about being a living treasure?

There is no practical benefit such as a modest train fare concession or a free-ice cream once a year. No special hat or tee shirt. No velvet cape, no medal, no food vouchers. Nothing! A terrible disappointment. All one gets is this reference when being introduced at a public event in front of an audience. What sort of look am I supposed to have on my face when I hear this? It's a bit embarrassing and rather funny. I take it lightly and with good cheer. I don't want to sound priggish but there are some very grotesque and dubious living treasures in Australia— and for me there is an unfortunate guilt by association factor.

and you make me smile, cry, give thanks for simplicity and beauty, and yearn for a better world with more of the above!

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