Snoopy, Charlie Brown and co. are heading to Somerset House

This autumn, Somerset House is presenting GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN! Celebrating Peanuts and its Cultural Legacy. This landmark exhibition showcases the original drawings of the cartoon’s creator Charles M. Schulz, alongside works inspired by Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang, from some of today’s most exciting artists and designers. GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN! Celebrating Peanuts and its Cultural Legacy explores the impact of the most successful comic strip of all time on the contemporary cultural landscape, uncovering the social, political and philosophical complexities told through the four-panel comic strip that have spoken to scores of artists and designers in their own work.

 Detail of Peanuts 06.07.1968 © Peanuts
Detail of Peanuts 06.07.1968 © Peanuts

In partnership with the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, California, GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN! Celebrating Peanuts and its Cultural Legacy features over 100 comic strips and personal artefacts from the Schulz Museum and contemporary works from contributors including: Andy Holden, David Musgrave, Fiona Banner, François Curlet, KAWS, Ken Kagami, Lucas Price, Mark Drew, Mark Mulroney, Mel Brimfield, Mira Calix, Ryan Gander and Steven Claydon.

KAWS, NO ONES HOME, 2015. COURTESY OF PACE PRINTS
KAWS, NO ONES HOME, 2015. COURTESY OF PACE PRINTS

As a generation of artists who grew up during the ‘golden age’ of Peanuts come to prominence today, its presence in the ideas and ambitions of contemporary media, from film and fashion to street art and sculpture, seems more powerful and meaningful than ever before.

As a generation of artists who grew up during the ‘golden age’ of Peanuts come to prominence today, its presence in the ideas and ambitions of contemporary media, from film and fashion to street art and sculpture, seems more powerful and meaningful than ever before.

For the exhibition, Somerset House has unearthed existing work and commissioned new pieces from contemporary practitioners, all of which is influenced by Peanuts.These will sit alongside Schulz’s original strips, rarely-seen in Europe, and together provide new perspectives on the comic masterpiece. Peanuts has been widely acknowledged as one of the most popular and influential comic strips of all time. From 1950 to 2000, creator Charles M. Schulz produced 17,897 Peanuts strips, syndicated to over 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries and translated into 21 languages, totalling a readership of 355 million people. For many, Peanuts became an important part of their daily lives and its cast of misfit characters – including everyone’s favourite cartoon canine Snoopy, loveable loser Charlie Brown, blanket-toting philosopher Linus, bossy older sister Lucy, piano-playing Schroeder and sports-obsessed Peppermint Patty – continue to captivate audiences, young and old, around the world. Within their adultless society, their tangle of relationships mirror minutiae everyday realities, emulating the joys, anxieties and vulnerabilities of life. Schulz’s cast of children commented on topical issues, so much so that the comic has become a chronicle of the social and political climate in the latter half of the twentieth century. His strips also spoke to the soul, pondering age-old questions in the search for meaning in the small game of life. Indeed, Peanuts philosophies and aphorisms have become legend, from Lucy’s “happiness is a warm puppy” to Charlie Brown’s “I only dread one day at a time”.

The exhibition unpacks the panels that tackle topics such as feminism, faith, racial equality and existentialism. Turner Prize nominee Fiona Banner invokes Snoopy the Flying Ace, in his battle with his nemesis the Red Baron, as a powerful commentary on the bitter futility of war, while artist and musician Steven Claydon looks to Pig Pen’s cloud of dirt and flies to provide a metaphor for the cultural associations that mass around objects. Conceptual artist Ryan Gander picks apart the constituent elements of Linus’s psyche to lay bare the strength of his vulnerabilities, and artist and musician Andy Holden asks for Charlie Brown’s help to propose a new theory on how art operates after the end of art.

GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN! Celebrating Peanuts and its Cultural Legacy is curated by Somerset House’s Senior Curator Claire Catterall, with the support of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center. Catterall said:

“Schulz had a deep appreciation of and love for the arts and he poured this into Peanuts. Just look at Snoopy – he tirelessly read War and Peace, one word per day, and hoped himself to become a ‘World Famous Author’ with titles such as ‘Snow White and the Seven Beagles’, despite repeated rejections. Once, he even had his famous dog kennel wrapped by environmental artist Christo, a remarkable TARDIS-like building that also housed a Van Gogh.
“Schulz saw himself in Schroeder – the musical genius who poured everything into his work to the exclusion of much else. Although cloaked in humour, Schulz understood the artistic imperative – what it took to be a great artist – and we see this over and over again in the strip.

The exhibition introduces Charles M. Schulz himself, looking at the lives and landscapes that shaped him and his strips. From melancholic Minnesota in the frigid Midwest to sunny Sonoma County in California, where Schulz based his studio for 42 years and the Schulz family built the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, complete with its ‘Warm Puppy Café’, Schulz himself can be seen throughout Peanuts and his experiences in these places enabled him to so perfectly convey the human condition and the state of society in his art.

It also explores his love of language and the ‘line’, a famous concept amongst cartoonists to express maximum emotion with the minimum amount of pen strokes on the page. In Peanuts, Schulz created a language of his own and helped compose some of the most commonly used phrases today. For instance, “Good Grief!”, “Blockhead!”, “Rats!”, and “**SIGH**” are just a few of the expressions that Charles M. Schulz immortalised. Japanese artist Ken Kagami’s multiple and inventive interpretations of Snoopy and Charlie Brown in his ‘Charpee’ series replicate the ease and flow of Schulz’s lines, albeit with rather fantastical results.

A special pop-up shop will also open in the exhibition, offering a range of unique products relating to Peanuts. GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN! Celebrating Peanuts and its Cultural Legacy is additionally supported by Sonoma County Tourism, the tourism authority for Sonoma County, California, which Charles M. Schulz called his home for over 40 years.

25th October – 3rd March GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN!EMBANKMENT GALLERIES, SOMERSET HOUSE, LONDON £14/£11 CONCESSIONS AVAILABLE FROM SOMERSETHOUSE.ORG.UK

Mark Drew, Positive Over Negative [CL Smooth], Courtesy of the artist.
Mark Drew, Positive Over Negative [CL Smooth], Courtesy of the artist.

About Mark Westall

Mark Westall is the Founder and Editor of FAD magazine, ' A curation of the world’s most interesting culture' [PLUS] Art of Conversation: A tri-annual 'no news paper' AofC - Issue 1 Autumn 2018