By Ronald Searle (New English Library)
In a previous review of England’s greatest living artistic treasure (even though he has lived, worked and been properly appreciated in France for the last 25 years) I dwelt on his fantastic humorous qualities, and rightly so, because he is one of our greatest ever cartoonists and graphic satirists and the book in question was a collection of his early cartoons (Ronald Searle’s Golden Oldies 1941-1961, ISBN: 0-85145-102-1). I didn’t spend too much time on his other achievements – and I’m still not going to – as his work should be seen and his thoughts and opinions should be understood in his chosen language: Art. At least he still has enough fans to fill the internet with all the information you could need, so go search-engining after you read this if you wish.
This collection traces Searle’s career pictorially from his 1930s art school days to the 1980s, by which time he was established – everywhere but here – as not only a cartoonist and satirist but as a film-maker, sculptor, designer, travel-writer and creator of fascinating reportage. This man is a capital “A” Artist in the manner of Picasso or Hockney, and Scarfe and Steadman notwithstanding, he is the last great British commentator to use cartooning and caricature as weapons of social change in the caustic manner of his heroes Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson, Cruikshank and the rest.
This volume includes selections from many previous collections and includes political illustration, war and travel drawings (including some moving pieces from his time as a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II), pure art-studies, nudes, medals he designed for the French Government, poster and paintings and of course, some of the most surreal, sardonic and grotesque funny pictures of the late 20th century.
Why his creations are so under-appreciated I do not know. Why this book is out of print: Ditto. That he will remain a relative unknown as yet another movie of his St Trinian’s girls gets all the headlines: Not if I can help it.
Anyone who considers themselves a devotee of the arts of graphic narrative should know of Searle’s work, not necessarily love – although how could you not? Just be aware of the tremendous debt we all owe to his vision, dedication and gifts.
© 1984 Ronald Searle.