Publications in various dailies and magazines – including De Volkskrant and Nieuwe Revu – have made Gummbah (an alias of Gertjan van Leeuwen, born in Nieuwaal, 1967) a fixture in the collective psyche of certain segments of the Dutch and Belgian population. His work offers a veritable avalanche of truly distasteful drawings, in which pitch-black humour, banality, absurdism and sublimated silliness form both the point of departure and the final destination. The show includes cartoons, comics, collages, murals and video art, as well as clothing made by Gummbah in collaboration with Chantal Rens.
Gummbah (an alias of Gertjan van Leeuwen, born in Nieuwaal, 1967), lives and works in Tilburg and takes his nom de plume from the Italian-American slang for ‘mate’. His publications in various dailies and magazines – including De Volkskrant, Nieuwe Revu and Humo – have made Gummbah a fixture in the collective psyche of certain segments of the Dutch and Belgian population. His work offers a veritable avalanche of drawings in truly bad taste, in which pitch-black humour, banality, absurdism and sublimated silliness form both the point of departure and the final destination. Oh well.
Gummbah sees ideals of beauty as far too limiting: “Ugliness clears the way for endless variation.” While in terms of aesthetics, the denizens of his cartoons have a level playing field, his work does show a cast-iron division of roles between the sexes. Gummbah’s women tend to be scolding battle-axes – towering viragos that unfailingly domineer their man-folk.
According to Gummbah, we are surrounded by jokes. They can be found anywhere where that miserable piece of work – humanity – resides. Nevertheless, various themes recur as regularly as clockwork. Sex is one of them; death another. Other regulars include public health care and the physically and mentally challenged. There are no taboos in Gummbah’s universe – issues like paedophilia, AIDS, whooping cough, the Holocaust and religion are also regularly touched upon. But the worse the subject, the better the joke should be, according to the cartoonist.
More than anything else, owning a vagina is a practical thing – and that’s what makes it so feminine
He gets up really early to start on his drawings – to release the urge. “Because if there’s one thing I’m addicted to, it’s drawing. And if I’m sitting at the table anyway to draw, I might as well write something in the margin. When I’m drawing, I enter a kind of Zen Buddhist state, during which you might say that the doors of my consciousness – or what’s left of it – are opened wide up to my subconscious, with all kinds of flashes of thought getting free rein. I never write anything based on emotion – I never feel anger or frustration when I’m working. I don’t make a massive effort or anything. It’s basically just playing around with languages and jokes. Stare out of the window a lot, loaf about and meanwhile play at being an amateur linguistic virtuoso.”