Jim Pavlidis narrates events and life with illustrations
I spoke to illustrator Jim Pavlidis just before the federal election. Pavlidis is lean and angular, and in his gray shirt and faded jeans he looks like a former member of the shoegaze band.
Pavlidis’ illustration Net Zero, Zero Net, for The Age, October 8, 2021, won the Melbourne Press Club’s Cartoon Quill award. Artwork shows former Prime Minister Scott Morrison swinging on a high trapeze, he hits a chunk of coal swinging on the other trapeze but misses and ends up airborne on top of a burning inferno. In the adjacent image, the earth balances precariously on a safety net above hell. Judge Quills wrote that Pavlidis’ idea “captures the politics perfectly”.
“Morrison let the climate issue wander and did nothing about it,” Pavlidis says.
Australia’s devastating Black Summer bushfires and disastrous floods were the chorus of Morrison’s election defeat.
The illustrator was never going to attack Scot Morrison’s religion.
“I refused to attack him on religion, I focused on his politics. And if he was Jewish or Muslim, would we be comfortable attacking him? asks Pavlidis.
I suggest that the feather is an emblem of respect and recognition.
“It’s overdone,” he says, “it’s a beautiful thing, but there’s still lingering self-doubt.”
He was fortunate to have editors who, whether they agreed with him or not, gave him the freedom to express his opinions.
Not a designer an illustrator.
“Matt Golding [The Age], is the best of political cartoons. I satirize. Comedy is having the ability to make someone laugh, and that’s a difficult thing.
The illustrator has a substantial career outside the newspaper. There are people who think “he’s an artist, and the other one is an illustrator”, he says.
But, he understands categorization, curators, he says, “know their stuff and categorize as a way to navigate the field.”
For Pavlidis, “an artist is one who lives art”.
“It doesn’t matter whether you like them or not, there’s once a line about my hero, Frank Alba, ‘that his desire was to find the coolest place on the pillow.’
“It’s hard to find a cool place where someone hasn’t been before,” says Pavlidis.
His art also belongs to the journalistic world of observation and narration.
“I’m not good at following briefs, I tell a story, politics and issues.”
Pavlidis digs into the issues and follows the details, be it environment, politics, wars, culture – all clashes.
He discusses with fellow journalists before proposing an illustration. He tells how Sean Kelly, the Saturday Paper columnist – whose analyzes he likes – once said to him: “I think you have already done this article”.
“I could have stuck to my guns, but I respected the process, so I fired it and made a new piece. Although I could have stuck to the principle that it is my image and that I can do whatever I want.
The trash can as a commentary on life
Pavlidis’ illustrations, outside of the media, reflect his life, his family, his elderly parents – his world.
They tell a story and create a mnemonic landscape of migration, aging and life in Australia.
“My latest obsession is wheelie bins, not as a fetish, but for what they represent in the suburbs where we live.”
He laughs and says his parents “must have the cleanest wheelie bins in the world.”
“They are flawless! It’s a trash can dad, I often say, why do you clean it?’ »
When I was a child in the 1970s, “images of overflowing trash cans were signs of social unrest and a society that was unraveling”.
His father’s obsession with clean bins speaks to the trauma of war and migration. Wheelie bins are also class markers; of poverty and privilege.
“You look at wheelie bins, uptown suburbs, outer suburbs, and even housing estates, and you can tell who lives in the house.”
Our parents’ generation and we, the second generation, also bear the wounds of the fratricide of the Greek Civil War (1945-1949).
The extended family of Pavlidis in northern Greece is divided between political and ethnolinguistic lines born out of this bloody affair. He’s the bridge between them, he doesn’t let darkness reign and he keeps trying to break down divisions.
We reflect on bands from our youth, The Saints, Radio Birdman, The Sports and more. I ask if our generation is more tolerant of diverse ideas than our “woke” children.
“I’m 58, I can’t speak for my children, I can only speak for our generation.”
“We felt like strangers. We were migrant children. Racism and Greek jokes were there, even though I was lucky enough to go to a school where Aussies and wogs mixed well.
He stops dead in his tracks and says, “I don’t want to romanticize it, there was some toxicity, and soon after I left, the Greeks and Italians at school started to drift off and separate from the others. .”
I ask if that ethnic child, the outsider, is still there at the center of the mainstream media. “Maybe, yeah when I think about it, I’m sure it’s still there and it pops up sometimes.”
We walk down Swanston St. and like the aging men we are becoming, we talk about our ailments, our adult children, our love of home, and how we often withdraw into our parents’ culture.