by Al Williams
Timaru cartoonist Brent Harpur has celebrated 25 years of teaching cartooning in South Canterbury.
Harpur celebrated with a public workshop at the Timaru District Library on Wednesday last week, attracting hordes of children and parents.
All the sight-impaired artist requires is a small space for his sketch pad, a chair and people.
His rapid freehand cartoons usually attract an admiring audience when he sets up his table at a cafe or other convenient place in Timaru. While he chats with a subject, he captures distinctive characteristics with rapid felt-pen strokes and soon produces a comic portrait.
Harpur recently returned to his Timaru hometown after living in Australia for several years. He has also produced poetry and stories, but free-hand sketches are his first preference.
He began his art career as a 5-year-old, copying the hedgehogs from the Bogor cartoons of the time. He said he was not a particularly academic school pupil, but enjoyed art.
By the time he was about 12, he was diagnosed with a serious eye disorder and now has only partial sight.
He has travelled to South America teaching the art of cartooning and inspiring sight-impaired young people to become independent by developing their skills and talents.
“It was in Brazil where I realised that cartooning was an international language.”
Harpur sketched in New York for several weeks in 2013.
“The people were generous in New York; it’s just that tipping culture. I’d like to go back to New York.”
While he was living in Melbourne, Harpur curated a show with Kiwi artists.
“I would like to bring a whole lot of Australian and American artists here for a show,” he said. “I have met a lot of people over the last 25 years.”
He said he used the skills he picked up in amateur theatre for his cartoons, as it also incorporated performance.
“It’s probably the human condition I am focused on; I’m not a political cartoonist.”
He said he was shy and introverted by nature.
“I spend a lot of down time just writing and drawing for me. I’d like to get some of my writing published.”