By Zach Thomas
In 1729, Irish satirist Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal.
In it, he suggested the poor of his country could help cure their economic woes by selling their children as food to wealthy noble men and women in neighboring England. The piece was both a commentary on the economic disparity between classes at the time and intended to mockingly imitate the dismissive attitude towards the poor. Fast forward almost three centuries and ask contemporary English illustrator John Holcroft
what he'd like to draw next, and the criticism remains eerily similar to of Swift's satirical castigation of wealth inequality. In his words, Holcroft would choose "a fat man with a belly that opens up like a safe, and it is full of money."
One look through Holcroft's illustration portfolio, and it is obvious that he prefers to view his societal observations though the lens of humor. "When doing the promotional work, I choose concepts that are interesting and resonate with people," he explains, and it's easy to find examples throughout his work.
One image portrays a series of cogs inside the outline of a suburban home. In the center of the largest cog is a running woman. As if on a hamster wheel, her motion appears to be powering a series of smaller cogs inhabited by a relaxed husband, an infant, a dinner cooking, cleaning supplies, and many others.
Another example shows a sad man locked into a stockade that has been created from the word Contract.
A third image portrays a burning cigarette with ashes shaped like coins falling from the tip.
Despite his masterful ability to provocatively demonstrate an issue or aspect of society through his images, Holcroft doesn't call himself a satirist. "I just like poking fun," he says.
His current illustration style is a culmination of an entire life of dedication. Holcroft spent his childhood drawing and painting wherever he could and eventually went on to study graphic design at Sheffield College. When his professional career began, he used acrylic paint and board to create imagery. However, in 2001 he put away his paints and switched to using a tablet. It wasn't until 2009, when a back procedure left him unable to work, that he created his current style. "You could say that things weren't going great for me. I was laid out on the floor, my wife had just had our second child, and we were a wage down," he explains. "As soon as I was able to sit at my desk, I started working on a new style."
That style is the one we see today in his featured work, although he does admit that it is always evolving and open to changes. What hasn't changed is his devotion to subject matter dominating his works. "The main qualities of my work throughout my work history all shared a common factor, the concepts. I believe an illustration should communicate to the viewer, and I want my work to speak volumes." Great satire isn't just in the writings of Swift, Mark Twain, or any of the literary heavyweights from the past. Satire’s vibrant heart still beats in the expressions of many today, and the work of John Holcroft is a fine example of its continuing life.