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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Searle at 90

Master penman Ronald Searle turns 90 today, and this is an update of a post from a coupla years ago. I'd meant to do something new, but I don't have the time now so it'll have to wait a few days.

Below is Searle's illustration for the song "National Brotherhood Week" from the book Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer With Not Enough Drawings by Ronald Searle. The original hangs in my dining room, just waiting to offend an unsuspecting diner. I think it's the only piece of art I've ever bought, and when I first unwrapped it I studied it for almost an hour, sometimes with my nose an inch from the paper. For a long time his style exerted a tidal pull on me, as it has at some point for a lot of cartoonists for over sixty years. Look at those hands! just clumps of fingers sprouting out of sleeves, and look at the way he's laid out the page in bendy chains of rectangles, look at how he's balanced the various line weights and the black sleeve and the curly hair, and look at all those gormless-looking faces...

I've heard that Searle plans his work pretty carefully and his unmistakable wiry, sprung lines are laid down with a lot more control than might be apparent. His work always makes me aware of how liquid ink is, how it skips and splotches and pools when it hits the paper.  Though he used to draw not with ink, but with a kind of stain meant for I think furniture. He liked it because it aged interestingly into a greyish purple, and because it handled differently than regular ink. They don't make that brand of stain anymore, and he's drawn with regular ink for years, and better than just about anyone else.

Happy Birthday to Mr. Searle, and I hope he's well and working in his converted windmill in the French countryside.


For a great recent interview with Searle, go here. For a fascinating and wide ranging tribute blog go here. For a deeply moving video interview in two parts, go here. The best thing I can think to say about his work is that when I look at it I remember why I love to draw, even though as he says in the interview, it's just slog, slog, slog.

3 comments:

Mike Peterson said...

You've done a good job of reflecting his ethos without aping his style. That's really the part of the artist that ought to rub off on a disciple.

Brian said...

Richard,
Thanks for the link to the article.
Quite nice to read.

Rod McKie said...

Excellent Richard. Of course the thought of you sniffing Searle's ink is a little disturbing...

He is marvelous and his excuse for drinking champagne while he works (the bubbles fire the cartooning imagination) is just great. A rare talent.