Artist Jim Anderson’s latest, career-spanning exhibition, Lampoon: An Historical Art Trajectory, showcases work from 40 years — and almost as many scandals.
As the art director for the infamous 1970s London-based Oz magazine, and later through his work in California over 20 years and back here in Sydney since the mid-’90s, Anderson’s satirical art has often landed him in hot water.
“The exhibition begins with the ‘Homosexual’ issue of Oz, which caused quite a stir,” Anderson told the Star Observer.
“It was the first time there’d ever been a nationally-circulated magazine with two gay men kissing on the cover. They were naked, and one was black and one was white.
“It created a sensation and sold out immediately — the police raided our office and hauled us into Scotland Yard. They gave us a warning and told us not to push it.”
But push it they did — just a few months later Oz released its infamous ‘Schoolkids’ issue, with “naked blue lesbians” on the cover, as they were described in the ensuing obscenity trial.
In 1971 Anderson, along with fellow Oz editors Felix Dennis and Richard Neville, were found guilty of breaching obscenity laws and briefly jailed before sanity prevailed and the case was overturned on appeal.
Looking at the cover now, it’s hard to believe there was a time only a few decades ago when the sight of a few bare breasts was enough to land somebody in jail.
“Censorship in London was strong at the time, and we fought against that. The very conservative government wanted to stop the underground press, and they did their best,” Anderson said.
“I don’t think it’d be deemed as shocking today — you can pretty much publish whatever you like now.”
Despite the regular brushes with the law, Anderson described the early-’70s Oz heyday as “a thrilling time. We always wanted to sail close to the wind. We knew what we could get away with, and we liked to push it”.
Having grown up in Sydney, Anderson returned here in the mid-’90s, and his work continued apace with a rather queer bent, including photographs of the Sydney Gay Nudists group and The Belles of St Mary’s, a satirical attack on Cardinal George Pell and the “coterie of young gay acolytes” who were rumoured to be in his inner circle.
“There’s always an element of homosexuality to my work, although this is not an entirely gay-themed exhibition. I think, as a homosexual, the most important thing you can do is be out all the time. That way mainstream society can realise there’s nothing to be scared of.”
info: Lampoon: An Historical Art Trajectory is at the Tin Sheds Gallery, University of Sydney, February 18 – March 12.