Friday, February 27, 2015

'Ronald Searle's America' advance buzz

Kind words from a man who knows about drawing, cartooning and Ronald Searle. Nick Galifianakis was in L.A. recently on tour with his (co-authored) book on the Art of Richard Thompson and spared a night to have dinner and talk art and travel and, of course, Ronald Searle. I gave him a sneak preview of the book and he seemed impressed and maybe a little excited even . . .

The Art of Richard Thompson...BOOK TOUR TIDBITS PART II
There’s is a code among some cartoonists. A secret handshake, a password that's exchanged. And once that transaction is completed there is an immediate understanding between the parties. Understanding of what…? Of the artist Ronald Searle.
Just such a transaction took place online a few years ago between Matt Jones and myself. Matt, at the time a story artist with Pixar, is the High Priest of the Ronald Searle Religion and the keeper of the best and most thorough blog on the late Searle. 
Matt recently found time within his time-consuming regular work schedule to curate an exhibit of Searle's work at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and, because he’s been able to successfully clone himself, Matt is also completing an extraordinary book on Ronald Searle In America.
And I can say “extraordinary” with confidence because I was indeed privileged to preview the book over dinner with Matt while on The Art of RT book tour in LA. Peeking at this work in progress is the cartoonist's equivalent to witnessing the creation of the Ten Commandments.
A slight exaggeration. 
It is a beautiful book, a loving homage to a most brilliant cartoonist - and I know a little something about beautiful books on brilliant cartoonists.
In fact, I'll bring them together with “my” brilliant artist’s own words on Searle. First, some background:
Many of the interviews in The Art of Richard Thompson were conducted by email, with the interviewers sending questions and Richard answering accordingly. Early in this process, however, Richard broke his hip, an obviously terrible development that slowed down both Richard and the book. So instead, Richard dictated his answers to me. 
The good part about this approach was that I could draw upon decades of conversation with Richard, as there was a good chance I’d recall what he had said about this artist or that, and then, when appropriate, nudge him for more. The bad part was that, because of time constraints, this often meant overly taxing my pal during a time when he was quite beat up. 
Of course, Richard got even with me because taking dictation from him usually meant, due to his diminished lung capacity, in order to hear him I had to bring my ear to within 2 inches of his mouth, resulting in the side of my face being covered in Cherry Coke spittle and whatever kind of cheeseburger he was eating that day.
Such was the dynamic when Richard was giving me answers to Peter de Seve’s questions about Richard’s influences. Pete was the last of the interviews and the deadline was looming, with a ton of graphics work left on the book, so after prattling on about a variety of artists that left an impression on him, Richard finally said “okay,” indicating that he was through. I looked at him incredulously.
“You’re not done,” I said through my ketchup-sprayed face.
“I’m not?”
“Richard…Ronald Searle?”
So my exhausted pal gave me two sentences on Ronald Searle. That was it.
“Richard, you’re not stopping at two sentences on RONALD SEARLE!” I exclaimed while picking bits of french fries out of my bushy eyebrows.
Sigh. He dug into his reserves, and gave me a bit more, and stopped. I pushed. And pushed, back and forth…and then Richard unveiled the following thoughts:
“Searle was just such an eye opener. I was twenty, I guess, and I was aware of him, but I didn’t know his work in the fullest…then I got that book, the Searle book with the theater curtain on the front and the binding split because I’d leave it open for reference (meaning copying) more often than it could take…
“For one thing, he could do anything with ink, anything he wanted to, he could do splashy lines, dry brush lines, skippy lines, rapid and staccato lines, stitchy lines … you could feel the weight of history behind his lines, in that he was aware of where they’d been before he used them.
“And the seriousness of some of his ideas… his awareness of art history and such, and that a cartoonist could have that gravitas hand in hand with sublime silliness had not occurred to me.
“Mimicking him was idiotic, but learning from him was necessary. Pat Oliphant said that everyone has a Searle period they go through -- suddenly that’s the only way to draw a lamp or a building or a person or a pig -- you can’t get away from it… until you find your own way, hopefully. Searle was such a gravity well that you could not help but be somehow deformed by his presence.”
I stopped typing before he finished and just looked at my drained friend. Though I’m fully aware that Richard is as eloquent with words as he is deft with his draftsmanship, I am still awed.
The great Ronald Searle inspired the great Richard Thompson, then and now. Matt Jones’ upcoming book is a loving tribute to Searle doing just that, for so many of us.'

Support the book by pre-ordering from Amazon here

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Searle and Cambridge

Searle was featured on the BBC's 'The Great Antiques Map of Britain' in its stop at Cambridge where the artist was born. He studied at the Cambridge School of Art now part of the Anglia Ruskin University. Professor of Illustration Martin Salisbury is interviewed and displays the school's collection of Searle ephemera including his art class score cards, nibs, sketchbooks and the original printing 'line blocks' used to print Searle's first collection of his wartime POW sketches. There are also several original drawings on display.

'By Rocking Chair Across Spain'

London gallery owner and illustration specialist Chris Beetles is consulted on the value of a drawing of 'Grand Central Station Commuters'. He says he would sell the drawing in his gallery between 4500-5500 British pounds.

The show can be viewed in the UK on the BBC i-player here for the next month.

Memories of Searle written by Prof. Martin Salisbury

Exhibition of Searle's work at Anglia Ruskin

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ronald Searle's America

My forthcoming book on Ronald Searle's American era work is now available to pre-order on Amazon here.

'This is legendary British cartoonist Ronald Searle’s caustic take on 1960s America, in the form of illustrations and drawings (with commentary).
Dispatched to America in the early ’60s, the golden age of illustrative reportage, Ronald Searle spent several years covering everything—in the form of drawings in his trademark satirical and virtuosic style—from sports to politics, for magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and TV Guide. Topics included Palm Springs, Las Vegas, the Presidential contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon—as seen through the eyes of a caustic Englishman. Full-color illustrations throughout.'

Friday, January 02, 2015


Here's a great feature on Searle from The Sketch magazine 1949. Alongside the St.Trinians drawings the article portrays the artist and his family. His first wife Kaye Webb and their (non-identical) twin children Kate and John in the bath!
That's a good shot of Ronald in front of a tapestry made in his style. I've see that in other photos and assumed it was from his design. This confirms it.  The picture's caption hints at the artist's true passion 'Like many other successful humorists, he is really more keen on serious work.' He would kill off his famous creations only a few years after this and pursue acceptance by the fine art world with a move to Paris in the early 1960s.

These early pictures seem to show the original design on paper. By the time the Searles moved to their modern, Denys Lasdun-designed, house at 32 Newton Rd. a woven tapestry was hanging on the wall. As you can see in the photos below it was part of an eclectic collection of artifacts that Ronald gathered including the Benin Bronze that he later sold.

I believe the tapestry was woven at the Edinburgh Tapestry Co. under the supervision of Ronald Cruickshank. (Artistic Director of the Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh, woven at The Golden Targe Tapestry Studio, Chester Street, Edinburgh).

(Thanks to Merfyn Jones for the magazine article scan)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


This cropped up on the UK Parliament's Twitter feed. Looks like they got a drawing out of Searle for their collection in 2009.

'The ancient and rather touching ceremony of proceeding towards Christmas'


Premier title sequence website 'Art of the Title' feature Searle's work on the film 'Scrooge'. The artwork was recently auctioned off at Bonhams and I've added all the images to the relevant section of this site here. If any buyers are reading I'd love to get some hi-res scans for my Searle archive. I can be contacted at the email link in my Blogger profile.

Art of the Title previously featured Searle's titles for 'Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines' here.

A recent curiosity I discovered was the Ronald Searle 'Cork-Scrooge' - a rare oddity I'd never heard of. Info here.

. . .and one last Christmas treat! Ulli Lust writes a report (in German) on his visit to the Searle archive in Hanover, with several good photos. I was fortunate to spend 2 days there back in 2010- it's Searle heaven! See the blog here
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

NY Times Book Review

'Attempted Bloggery' found an incomplete drawing by Searle with a Santa sketch. (The recipient was his U.S. rep. Eileen McMahon).  In his archive I remember seeing a collection of xeroxed pages Ronald had made of this drawing and others for the NY Times Book Review (7th September 1997). Ronald was known to art directors and art editors as a professional who would not only dispatch artwork on time but they would often be happily surprised to receive a whole batch of ideas on the same theme for them to pick from. This seems to be the case here where Ronald has offered a variety of Santa gags, perhaps for a 'Books for Christmas' feature? I can't find any reference to this artwork on the NY Times archive website. Maybe someone will be able to find a back issue for me?

Searle explored the 'art museum guard' situation several times over his career.

 An Arcimboldo-like Santa comprised of Christmas dinner!

 Santa delivers a giant bottle of ink on his nib-antlered reindeer!

More Christmas Searle here