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Ronald Searle Revisited

JUNE 9, 2012
My friend Claude Haber has sent me another catalog. This one is a blockbuster and it's one you can review online.
At 204 pages, it's Ronald Searle Remembered. And Searle is an artist who’s well worth remembering. His influence on graphic art and artists over more than half a century is hard to overstate.
Calling him the "greatest cartoonist of the 20th Century," the catalog accompanies an exhibition at the Chris Beetles Gallery in London. It contains over 350 pictures, “enhanced by new research and narrative” and “explores the full range of Ronald Searle's formidable career from the clandestine drawings he produced as an inmate of the notorious Japanese Prisoner of War camp, Changi Gaol, to his late book and magazine illustrations."
There are, of course, examples of the artist's published work, such as this 1960 drawing from Punch, of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld offering a limp handshake to Soviet Premier Khrushchev and his posse of assorted Communist thugs and dictators.
And the St. Trinian's books he wrote and illustrated about a fictional girls school where the students are frequently armed and always dangerous, stories that were later made into a series of popular British movies starring actor Alastair Sim in drag as the headmistress.
There are also examples of Searle’s advertising art, such as this 1952 billboard for Hart Rum, and various other examples.
Yet much of the catalog is given over to the work behind the work. Of these, there are hundreds of examples: such as these character sketches of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann at his 1961 trial for war crimes in Jerusalem.
Or working drawings, such as these pencil sketches of the actor Charles Laughton, as Bottom in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s 1959 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Stratford-upon-Avon.
There are private drawings on letters or from the flyleaves of books, such as this one, drawn for a nurse who had attended Searle during a 1956 stay in the hospital...
Preliminary sketches for commercial assignments...
Or the working bits and pieces of how he assembled more complicated pictures, such as this courtroom scene from a 1957 trial he was covering at the Old Bailey in London.
Searle's style, which inspired countless artists during the 1950s, 60s and beyond, had such a feeling of spontaneity that it appeared effortless.
Yet this catalog shows how hard the guy worked to make it look easy.
I've already noted my own debt to Ronald Searle. It was drawings like the one below that ushered me out of the Disney style I had spent my teenage years trying to master and into the world of drawing from life. And it was in drawing from life that I came to develop a style of my own.
As I wrote at the beginning, this is a catalog you can review online.You can enlarge the pages, scroll over the pictures and read the text with ease. Ronald Searle Remembered was produced by the Chris Beetles Gallery. It was written by David Wootton, edited and researched by Wootton and Catherine Andrews.  It can be accessed online here and ordered here


My thanks again to Claude Haber, a heart doctor with a heart of gold, for keeping me up on exhibitions such as this one.


All these drawings, of course, are copyrighted and are the property of the estate of Ronald Searle or those to whom the rights have been legally transferred.