Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Peter Dunlap-Shohl

"It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. I say, Why not do both?" - Peter Dunlap-Shohl
Anchorage cartoonist Peter Dunlap-Shohl was the editorial cartoonist for the Anchorage Daily News for twenty-five years before taking a buy-out as part of the recent staff reductions gutting the industry. He still lives and works in Anchorage, and was kind enough to let me drop by for a short chat during my recent visit. Previously, we had only met one other time, about fifteen years ago, when I had a meeting with a Daily News editor to see about running my then-titled FreezeFrame feature. The redeeming bonus was getting a chance to see for the first time ever an actual, real-live working cartoonist in his office at the newspaper, which made a tremendous impression on me.

Pretty much the sole reason I would ever pick up a copy of that newspaper was to look at and learn from Peter Dunlap-Shohl's panel that would appear five days a week: besides the insightful commentary on matters affecting Alaskan politics, people and current events, I admired his loose, gestural linework and distinctive drawing style. Which in retrospect is somewhat ironic given the latest evolution of his art; after being diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2002, his drawings morphed into an even more expressive style in part influenced by compensation to the disorder and his consequent shifting into computer art (and adoption of Wacom tablets).
Paradoxically, and most impressive to me, is not so much how his output continued after undergoing these changes but his continued experimentation with different media, namely animation. Using everything from iMovie, Flash and Final Cut over the past few years, Peter has embraced technology's "intoxicating ability" to creatively express his concepts in a new way: as he noted, the "format is changing - not the content." For him, "creativity is all about limits" - overcoming them and adapting to situations: "if you don't have a problem then you don't have any solutions." I was lucky enough to preview a work-in-progress piece based on Turnagain Arm childhood memories and his experiences of the '64 earthquake, which incorporates his music (ex: backwards dobro) and narration to accompany his animation. Watching this and seeing some of his other shorts it was easy too see how passionate and enthusiastic Peter is working in this medium and how much it's "really a blast to have stuff come alive," which in turn is probably one the biggest aesthetic qualities of his drawings to me; if I were to critique them in a formal setting I'd describe them as being alive.

Aside from some on-line archives, and now occasional contributions to Alaska Dispatch's "Talk of the Tundra" and the Ester Republic, Peter's current work can be seen on several blogs that he maintains: "Frozen Grin" is a general repository for "products of my fevered imagination"
including iPhone art, animations, illustrations and editorial cartoons. Also there's "Off and On: The Alaska Parkinson's Rag," serving as both a "therapeutic hobby" and as an "information clearinghouse for the Anchorage Parkinson's Disease Support Group" along with sporting more illustrations. And then there's another side-project of his called "Gurney to the Dark Side," which is focused on health-care issues, a "specialized educational experiment."
All three are worth checking out and following, as they are his creative foray into a different , wider community as opposed to regional editorials.
Fittingly enough, last year Peter was nominated for Alaska Press Club's First Amendment Award.
"Peter Dunlap-Shohl has never given up that good fight against apathy. He gives us trenchant comment wrapped in light-hearted images. He insists that we consider the follies and hypocrisies around us -- even when it's less trouble to look away. Our freedoms have no better defender." - Steve Lindbeck

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