Chris Bird pays his respects to well known British anti-war and political cartoonist Leon Kuhn
Leon Kuhn political cartoonist and activist died yesterday in London aged 59. Leon was a regular contributor of cartoons to The Morning Star. He strove in his artwork to lampoon the rich and powerful in society. Leon always took the side of the working class .For Leon art was an essential element in the struggle for socialism and he attempted to stay firmly rooted in the progressive movement.
In the miners’ strike of 1984-5 Leon was an active member of Kilburn Miners Support Group and one of his most valued possessions was the miner’s lamp given to him by the NUM in gratitude for his support. Leon was sceptical of the art world of inflated prices and obscure meanings. For Leon art must connect with the struggle of ordinary people. Leon was a familiar sight on demonstrations where he would carry his large placard of his cartoons. I was proud to walk beside Leon on the great TUC demo of March 26 2011 as we sold his postcard ‘Cameron’s Pig Society’ which showed the Prime minister as a greedy pig. Leon commented with a wry smile ‘No offence to pigs intended’.
Leon was particularly supportive of all anti-fascist groups and his designs were used by Unite against Fascism at the time of the growth of the BNP. Leon also supported the Respect Party’s electoral campaigns in East London and designed numerous cartoons and illustrations that were used to great effect. His illustrations were featured in an anti-war book ‘Big Bang for Bureaucrats’ as well as ‘Topple The Mighty’ a socialist analysis of statues and public art.
I knew Leon as my comrade and my friend and was so striking about him was his deep seated loathing of capitalism. Leon had a profound and at times all-consuming hatred of inequality and injustice. During the movement against the Iraq war Leon was particularly biting in his depictions of Tony Blair and his image of the New Labour PM became famous worldwide in progressive circles.
From a north London Jewish background Leon had experienced prejudice first hand and despised all forms of racism and anti-Semitism. He won a national cartoon competition at the age of 12. He attended the Slade School of art at the age of 17 but left before graduating. Leon never identified with the stuffy world of art for art’s sake. The need for social justice inspired Leon to take the side of the oppressed.
He lived in Japan for a number of years where he developed his love of karate.
As well as contributing to The Morning Star Leon’s artwork featured in the New Statesman, Socialist Worker, New Internationalist, Green Socialist as well as the News on Sunday.
Leon was a member of BECTU and the Socialist Workers Party.
Leon recently had a display at the People’s Assembly in London where his postcards found a new audience.
He will be sorely missed as a principled socialist artist, my dear friend and comrade.