The works collected in Behind the Lines emphasise the importance of graphic art in our print media. They remind us of how valuable cartooning is to the aesthetics of newspaper reading. The look of the cartoon or illustration on paper, surrounded by text and advertisements, is a key component of newspapers and magazines.
With a few strokes of the pen, cartoonists dissect the most complex events, reflecting on the big issues of the day. Each cartoon provides a snapshot of our times, leaving a small time capsule of events and personalities and how they were understood. The commentary contained within each cartoon is often more evocative and condensed than the thousands of words of text that surround them.
In a year marked by war, deep lines were drawn in Australian society. Cartoonists were quick to take up positions in this debate. Reflecting a deeply sceptical streak, they dissected the paradoxes of the liberation of Iraq and the search for the elusive weapons of mass destruction.
On the domestic stage the normal push and shove of national politics demanded attention. The resignation of the Governor-General, leadership struggles in the Labor Party, John Howard's decision to stay on as Prime Minister, the release of Pauline Hanson from prison and the fate of 58,000 sheep stranded in the Middle East all inspired cartoonists to pick up their pens.
Behind the Lines not only offers an opportunity to reflect on the year that was, but also provides a chance to see some of the original artwork of Australia's leading cartoonists. There are examples of work from major editorial artists such as Bill Leak, Bruce Petty, Peter Nicholson, Mark Knight, Cathy Wilcox and Warren Brown. There are also incisive pocket cartoons from Ron Tandberg, Jon Kudelka and Judy Horacek.
Perhaps most strikingly, in the context of the exhibition, is the work of Australia's best illustrators including Edd Aragon, John Spooner, Michael Fitzjames, Ward O'Neill, Paul Newman, Eric Löbbecke and many more.
Viewing the cartoons, beautifully framed as they are in the exhibition, allows the works to live again and communicate with an audience. While sometimes ephemeral in newsprint, they demand serious attention when presented for display.
Cartooning as an art form has grown with the print media. As newspapers and magazines have changed, cartoons have changed with them. As new printing technology develops, cartoonists change their techniques and palettes. What once was defined as black and white art now incorporates colour and digital effects previously unavailable.
Whatever the future of newspapers and magazines in the digital age, graphic art will continue to play a central role.