A Legacy in Political Cartoons: ‘Darcy & Darcy: In Monochrome’ at Nunu Fine Art

The show of work of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Thomas F. Darcy and contemporary artist Brad Darcy presents a cross-generational exploration of political and social commentary.

An installation of illustrations hanging on the wall
“Darcy & Darcy: In Monochrome” is at Nunu Fine Art through Courtesy the artist and Nunu Fine Art New York

Brad Darcy still remembers family dinners where the television news was always on, his father’s sharp eyes glued to the screen, taking in the day’s events. Afterward, his father, Thomas F. Darcy, would invite all the children into his studio to critique his latest political cartoon. “He valued our opinions, even as kids,” Brad Darcy recalls. “We grew up knowing he was doing really important work, but it came with risks—death threats over mail and calls, and moving houses often to stay safe.”

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Thomas F. Darcy (1932-2000) considered himself a “newsman,” as Brad recalls. He first worked in the advertising industry before shifting to editorial cartooning at the daily newspaper Newsday. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1970 for his penetrating works addressing the Vietnam War and racial discrimination. This was followed by the Best Cartoon on Foreign Affairs Award in 1970 and 1973, a Meeman Conservation Award in 1972 and 1974, and a National Headliner Award in 1974. Thomas F. Darcy’s works cover a broad spectrum of topics, from the Vietnam War and racism to nuclear arms. Known for incisive and witty political commentary, Darcy’s cartoons offer a sharp perception of the contemporary milieu.

An installation of illustrations hanging on the wall
Illustrations by Brad Darcy. Courtesy the artist and Nunu Fine Art New York

When his fourth son, Brad Darcy, was born in 1969, Darcy realized that Brad was a rebel. Brad did not follow his father’s or brothers’ footsteps to become an art director or cartoonist. Instead, he studied at The Fashion Institute of Technology and then pursued an education in computer art at the School of Visual Arts. He considered his illustrations as spontaneous “automatic drawings.”

Nearly twenty-four years after his death, Darcy’s work is being exhibited alongside his son’s in “Darcy & Darcy: In Monochrome,” currently on view at Nunu Fine Art New York through August 24. The show features over 120 of Darcy’s original editorial cartoons from the postwar decades and more than 50 of Brad Darcy’s black-and-white works on paper depicting his spontaneous “automatic drawing” sessions.

At a time when students worldwide are protesting on campuses in response to the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, the show is timely. It invites viewers to reflect on the anti-war movement, both past and present, challenging the status quo with a blend of humor and critique. The simplicity of black lines on white paper distills complex subjects to their essence, making the work both accessible and profoundly impactful.

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One striking element in the gallery is a series of letters from the White House signed by Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (38th U.S. president from 1974 to 1977) and Richard Nixon (37th U.S. president from 1969 to 1974), displayed in a case on the left. Darcy made several pieces mocking the government’s inactions and corruption related to the war, expressing a deeply anguished atmosphere, as corruption, spying and skepticism became public preoccupations—issues that remain relevant today.

Despite the satirical nature of Darcy’s work, Nixon was a fan. In a letter sent on June 11, 1969, Nixon wrote: “Dear Mr. Darcy, I am delighted to have your ‘honeymoon’ cartoon. I understand that in the absence of the original, you very generously drew another for me, and I am very grateful for the time and efforts this thoughtful gesture must have required.”

A political cartoon
Thomas F. Darcy, Political Cartoon 694, August 11, 1969; Ink and Zip-a-tone on illustration board. Courtesy the artist and Nunu Fine Art New York

In a piece titled “Political Cartoon 694” (August 11, 1969), Darcy masterfully encapsulates the tension between authoritarian power and youthful protest. The cartoon features a stern, authoritarian leader, possibly a military general, seated at a desk labeled “Super Powers Inc.,” with a backdrop of peace-sign-carrying student protestors. The bold lines and intricate detailing on the uniform and the leader’s expression emphasize Darcy’s skill in conveying authority and disdain. The caption, “Silly kids think they can change the world overnight!” reflects the dismissive attitude of the establishment towards the anti-war movement, capturing the generational and ideological divide of the era. The stark mention of a “20 MINUTE WARNING FOR TOTAL NUCLEAR DESTRUCTION” underscores the looming threat of nuclear war during the Cold War period, critiquing the government’s prioritization of power and war over public sentiment and peace. This cartoon not only highlights Darcy’s incisive and witty political commentary but also resonates with contemporary issues, echoing current student movements and global political tensions.

A political cartoon
Thomas F. Darcy, Political Cartoon 1316, February 11, 1973; Ink, pencil, and Zip-a-tone on illustration board. Courtesy the artist and Nunu Fine Art New York

In another piece titled “Political Cartoon 1316” (February 11, 1973), the artist confronts the stark realities faced by Vietnam War veterans. The image depicts a slumped, heroin-addicted veteran lying against a brick wall, with a discarded syringe beside him. Above, a billboard ironically reads, “Help A Veteran…Buy A Poppy,” highlighting the hollow gestures of support offered by society. The detailed rendering of the veteran’s posture and the stark text on his jacket serves as a powerful commentary on the neglect and struggles faced by those who served. Through this piece, Darcy not only critiques the superficiality of societal support but also evokes empathy and awareness of the ongoing plight of war veterans. The cartoon remains a powerful and relevant reminder of the human cost of conflict and the failures of societal and governmental support systems.

Of course, Darcy’s work drew controversy. In a letter from the Houston Post’s news director on Oct. 5, 1966, Williams J. Woestendiek wrote, “Darcy… I am sure [he was] the best editorial cartoonist Houston ever had. However, the cartoon that appealed so much to you and to EDITOR & PUBLISHER proved to be too strong for Houston blood and Darcy is no longer with us.”

Throughout his career, Darcy worked at multiple news outlets, such as the Phoenix Gazette, Houston Post, and Philadelphia Bulletin, but his longest tenure was at Newsday, a daily New York newspaper serving primarily Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. Due to the emotional toll carried in his work, Darcy had a series of nervous breakdowns when he worked as a political cartoonist at Newsday.

“1964-1972. Hurricanes end. Sunshowers. No longer the free, lyrical flight of the gull, high above the outstretched horizon, motionless for a moment, then, unwilling to fix itself in time glides, rolling out into a deep, graceful arc, knowing no boundaries,” he wrote in his op-ed titled “After Recovery, the years of Judgment” in Newsday during the post-war period (year not clear).

A political cartoon
Thomas F. Darcy, Political Cartoon 1045, 1969-1980; Ink on illustration board/photostat. Courtesy the artist and Nunu Fine Art New York

As his son Brad Darcy comments, Darcy’s work was a form of activism, “driven by the plight of the less fortunate,” where race and gender issues are two common themes in his work.

In “Political Cartoon 1045” (1969-1980), Darcy delivers a biting commentary on gender wage disparity through a humorous yet poignant scenario. The cartoon depicts a female robber holding up a man, who raises his hands in surrender while stating, “I’ll give you 62 percent of what I gave a male robber yesterday.” The juxtaposition of the woman’s assertive posture against the man’s submissive one effectively critiques the systemic undervaluation of women’s work.

A political cartoon
Thomas F. Darcy, Political Cartoon 1359, 1969-1980; Ink on illustration board/photostat. Courtesy the artist and Nunu Fine Art New York

In “Political Cartoon 1359” (1969-1980), Darcy tackles the sensitive and critical issue of the FBI’s harassment of Martin Luther King. The cartoon portrays a contemplative King juxtaposed with a sinister figure handing him a note that reads, “KING: WE SUGGEST YOU COMMIT SUICIDE…OR ELSE!” The caption below, “Tell me again about your impartial investigation of my death…” adds a chilling irony to the piece. The somber expression on King’s face, rendered with careful attention to detail, conveys a deep sense of injustice and the burden of surveillance he endured. This piece serves as a reminder of the lengths to which the establishment would go to silence dissent and control narratives, making it a powerful example of Darcy’s ability to confront uncomfortable truths through his art.

While Tom Darcy’s works lay the foundation, his son Brad Darcy’s contributions to the exhibition bring a modern sensibility to the themes his father explored. The younger Darcy’s works are more spontaneous and free in expression. He created a form of “autonomous drawing session,” where he channels his creativity in concentrated bursts timed with the full moon. This unique process, motivated by the higher tides and intensified thoughts during the full moon, has become a ritual for Darcy. Over the past five years, he has dedicated one session per month, often lasting four to five hours, during which he produces around 50 drawings. His approach has evolved from filling each page with multiple small drawings to focusing on one larger drawing per page, capturing a stream of consciousness. By maintaining a 9×12″ format, he ensures his ideas are quickly and fluidly transferred to paper, reflecting a raw, uninterrupted flow of thought.

Darcy’s “Claw Myself a Rainbow” (2018) is an evocative piece that embodies the essence of his automatic drawing sessions. Utilizing basic art supplies such as pens, pencils, brushes, markers and ink, Darcy crafts a spontaneous and dynamic linear composition. The lines appear fluid and free, mapping out unconscious terrains rather than rendering detailed representations. The title suggests a struggle for peace amidst chaos, a theme echoed in the vigorous, almost frantic lines that make up the figure. The abstract forms coalesce into a vaguely human shape, hands raised in a gesture that can be interpreted as both pleading and defiant. Darcy’s quote accompanying the piece reinforces this interpretation: “The feelings I feel and the thoughts that flow through my mind are distilled to a point where my heart almost blindly relays a secret message to my hand… I don’t draw my thoughts and feelings, they draw me.”

A cartoon
Brad Darcy, Claw Myself a Rainbow, 2018; Ink on paper. Courtesy the artist and Nunu Fine Art New York

“Darcy & Darcy: In Monochrome” successfully brings together the distinct artistic practices of father and son. While Thomas F. Darcy’s cartoons are rooted in the sociopolitical issues of his era, Brad Darcy’s automatic drawings explore the intricacies of human consciousness. The exhibition’s monochromatic palette of black lines on white paper creates a visual harmony that underscores the thematic connections between their works. Both artists, through their concise portrayals, engage viewers in a deeper contemplation of complex subjects, highlighting the power of simplicity in conveying profound ideas.

A Legacy in Political Cartoons: ‘Darcy & Darcy: In Monochrome’ at Nunu Fine Art