Saturday, 26 June 2010

Grimly fiendish

I mentioned in a comment a while back what a fan I am of Ronald Searle. Today, after having been told about it a couple of months ago by my dad, I got my act together and trotted down to the Cartoon Museum's exhibition of his work. I urge anybody who's interested to get their skates on as it closes on 4 July. Having said that the Toy Tales exhibition starting up straight afterwards looks good as well.

Anyway, Ronald Searle, how great is my admiration for his work? I've picked up nearly thirty of his books over the years. I think I prefer his pictures from the fifties and sixties and the exhibition features a fair number of these, though his style hasn't really changed and the pictures here from the nineties are just as good in a way.

Searle's pictures for me will always evoke the 1950s - the gloomy, gothic aftermath of the Victorian empire, ladies in rooms stuffed with knick-knacks, colonial club bores (see below), even the most minor of officials wearing uniform (the zoo keepers above). A certain type of birdcage always puts me in mind of his work. He shares the same sort of space as Ealing comedies (though possibly this is down to the presence of Alastair Sim in the St Trinian films).

While it was great to see some familiar pictures in the flesh - the straight reportage from Looking at London, the brilliant seven phases of Molesworth's Batmanship (uncannily similar to my own experiences at the crease), it was the stuff that I hadn't seen before that exerted the greater hold over me. Some of these labelled from the collection of Ronald and Monica Searle I'm not sure will have been on display before.

The portrait of a Moroccan entitled just Fez, March 1951 for instance. This was sketched while Searle was convalescing there for a bout of bronchitis - again, another world, people just don't do that anymore. Anyway, it was a small but perfect piece of art that was worth the price of the ticket (£5.50) alone.

Another that I don't think I've seen before was Kaiserlauten US Army Base (1964). This again was reportage but of a more satirical nature than either his drawings of London or Paris. Germany seems to bring out more of the savagery (especially a few years later in his Secret Sketchbook, from which no pictures are on display).

She wasn't in the exhibition this time but I saw the unmistakeable Fenella Fielding again on the tube on my way home.

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