May and Herbert Gibbs Collection

For Herbert and May, art was seriously fun


Untitled [Postcard],
May Gibbs 1911

May Gibbs recalled of her early teenage years in South Perth
that 'My interest at that time was everything I saw and I was particularly keen on making fun of things'. Her powers of observation and sense of fun had been nurtured by her parents
and were lifelong traits.

In the late 1880s, May had watched her father Herbert drawing irreverent cartoons on topical Perth issues for The Possum and its successor, the WA Bulletin. May first worked as a newspaper cartoonist in 1902, producing social comment under the pseudonym of 'Blob' for another Western Australian magazine, Social Kodak. Later, she worked for the Western Mail and, in London, drew cartoons for Common Cause, published by the suffragettes. At the peak of her fame as a children's author in the 1920s, she was also one of Sydney's most successful cartoonists, producing two different comic strips for rival newspapers. One of these, Bib and Bub, ran from 1924 until 1967.

Yet whimsical humour wasn't just a nice little earner, it infused every area of their lives. Herbert and May often filled idle moments drawing cartoons and caricatures, sometimes as postcards -for the entertainment of family and friends. In Your little 'Daught' [sic] in the latest!, May shows her parents some new clothes, much as a daughter today might send a digital photograph via a mobile phone. In similar style, Herbert's A cheery parting graphically illustrates for May how fatigued he felt after a visit to Sydney. Gentle self-mockery infuses such works, and is also evident in May's intimate domestic sketches Cally not admitted and Strictly private. The humour of May and Herbert Gibbs was sharp in observation and typically expresses a keen awareness of human frailties.