Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The old man mad about drawing

This past weekend I had the great privilege of spending an afternoon with one of my artistic heroes Ronald Searle.
It took 2 years, several letters (Mr Searle possesses no phone) & all my fingers crossed to arrange this meeting. I approached the somewhat reclusive artist with great respect for his privacy & he agreed to welcome me into his home for an hour last Saturday.
He's 88 years old but was in fine form talking for almost 2 hours in the end before he concluded our chat. I could have listened to him all day but he had to rest.

However within those 2 hours we discussed much; drawing of course, he looked at my work & gave me his opinion (looks like no human hand has touched it, was it created by pressing a button?!). We leafed through several books of his art that I had taken along & told me the stories behind many with impressive recall. Meeting Churchill, going to Poland with Topolski to see Picasso, seeing the construction of the Berlin wall, posted to Cyprus as part of a top secret mission to wage psychological war during the Suez crisis, jetting around the world for HOLIDAY magazine & LIFE magazine as an illustration journalist. We touched on the subject of his time as a prisoner of war but skirted around the painful memories (although he couldn't help but chuckle at the irony of his book of POW sketches being printed in Singapore!) I asked him about visiting Walt Disney who he didn't care for, preferring the company of the artists specifically Ken Anderson & others whose names he'd forgotten. (He's well aware that Anderson aped his style in the production of 101 Dalmations). He also revealed that he enjoyed working for a while in New York with Bill Tytla at his commercial house there.

We discussed the technicalities of drawing & after a demonstration of pens that he uses he gave me a dip pen! Unremarkable in itself but I'll treasure it!
Concerned by current affairs he discussed politics & the financial situation in the U.S. He lamented the state of modern political caricature in the States, believing it's been crippled by syndication. Asked who he rates these days he said Steve Bell & Martin Rowson (who made the 2006 documentary on Searle). But it still puzzles him why no-one came along as good as André François, Sempé or Topor, nobody followed in their footsteps. He has fond memories of friendships with all those contemporaries whose great talent he said made him realize his shortcomings. His eyes twinkled when recalling the fire in his belly after seeing a Picasso exhibition that really made him want to draw. He felt 'Picasso may never have finished anything but he opened all the doors for us to go forward.'

I enquired about his work ethic & he told me he still works from 9am to 6pm everyday with a short break for cheese along the way. He said he's 'still excited to get to his drawing desk each morning & see what will come out of his pen.'


I feel extremely fortunate to have met with a true master & hope to catch up with him again soon to ask him yet more questions about his career & art. He was mystified at reaching his age & quite tickled to think that in only 12 years he'll be 100!! I'm sure he'll still be drawing too. I'll be putting further details of our chat over on my Ronald Searle Tribute Blog once I've transcribed everything he said.




"From the time I was six, I was in the habit of sketching things I saw around me, and around the age of fifty, I began to work in earnest, producing numerous designs. It was not until after my seventieth year, however, that I produced anything of significance. At the age of seventy-three, I began to grasp the underlying structure of birds and animals, insects and fish, and the way trees and plants grow. Thus, if I keep up my efforts, I will have an even better understanding when I am eighty, and by ninety will have penetrated to the heart of things. At one hundred, I may reach a level of divine understanding, and if I live a decade beyond that, everything I paint-every dot and line-will be alive. I ask the god of longevity to grant me a life long enough to prove this true."

-Hokusai, postscript to One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji



Here I am en route to the village in the clouds where Mr Searle lives!

49 comments:

max said...

Wow!

SteveLambe said...

Congrats on getting some quality time with Searle, Matt. Really looking forward to reading your transcription.

You think his comment about your personal work is more a refection of the digital age than a critique of your personal work?

I would imagine a lot of the older generation feel today's artwork lacks the warmth that came from using traditional materials.

pbcbstudios said...

awesome awesome awesome.

Matt J said...

Yes Steve you got it, that was exactly the case. Mr Searle was much more complimentary about my sketch work-'real' drawing. The digital Pshop designs left him cold. He impressed upon me the importance of the human touch in artwork, which is obviously what makes his work so strong. He coached me on getting more character into my architectural drawings too.

Oscar Grillo said...

Nice report, Matthew!

Brian Sibley said...

Well done on meeting a man who is the graphic hero for so many of us! And thank you for sharing details of the encounter. :-)

edhead said...

WOO!

Elliot said...

I'm thrilled to bits for you. Congratulations, Matt.

Holger said...

Congratulations and Thanks!

Richard Mitchelson said...

Can't wait to read the transcript Matt, this sounds like one of the meeetings you will recall evry time you sit to draw... truly great

Matt J said...

Elliot, I have an interview with GARY too from last year that I've been meaning to run on the Garycatures blog. I'll edit it & get it on there soon.


Rich-Yup, it's kinda hard to justify making artwork with vector paths with Searle's words ringing in my ears!

Drazen said...

well thats just darn terrific!

Boris Hiestand said...

I'm glad for you. cherish the memories of this encounter, I hope that through osmosis you managed to get a little bit better at your craft.

I'm jealous too. But then again I had the pleasure to actually meet Adriaan in the flesh.

Kyri Kyprianou said...

Wow, that must've been great meeting the man himself. I can't believe he still works every day. I hope I can still do it when I reach his age.

Good on you both.

richardcthompson said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! You lucky man.

ho11z said...

OMG! OMG! OMG! I can't wait to read about the rest of your visit and everything he had to say. Thanks so much for sharing.

Scott Morse said...

Wow. How amazing. I'm incredibly envious...thanks for the account of the visit. I'm so happy he's still making conversation and work.

Paleo said...

My ears uncurled on a outburst of envy.

Also, i take this chance to thank you for the great work on the Searle blog, is my favourite webpage ever!

k. borcz said...

Dude that's sooo awesome that you got to meet with him! Kudos to you and thanks for posting a bit on it. :)

P. Alvarado said...

Matt,

Been checking your blog off and on for the last year and I am always impressed by your stuff, so I am not surprised that Searle would be one of your heros. Truly inspired by the posting of your meeting as well as your commitment to your craft as well.

Can't wait to read more about your meeting and thanks for sharing.

Heath Kenny said...

Hey Matt,

Wow man this is great. A really testament to your drive and perseverance, that you managed to meet with him like this.

On another note I have something (work related) to talk to you about could you give me a call. I seem to have lost your french number.

Cheers HK

Will Kane said...

Well done Matt!

Blammo said...

Thanks for sharing!
Jason;)

Patrick O'Connor said...

Fantastic! I've always dreamed of sitting down with Searle in his French home. What an honor. Congratulations!!!

Kei Acedera said...

Jeeezzz what an expeience! that's so unreal, thank you for sharing this!!--its so nice to hear that he still gets excited about drawing.

Melvyn Erville said...

It's like you've casually said "Oh buy the way I just had tea with God..."

M@ said...

Really pleased for you Matt-the pilgrimage finally happened!

Vince M. said...

Amazing.

Steve said...

Matt, I would probably pay money to find out what pens/nibs Ronald Searle uses, I have struggled for years to find a decent pen and wasted ££ on useless scratchy nibs which won't take a fast upstroke. If Mr.Searle had no objections to you sharing that information, PLEASE include it in your article, or at least let me email you please please please.

Matt J said...

Steve I'll tell you for free! Searle would make on the spot sketches with his trusty MontBlanc fountain pen (he was surprised to hear they cost 400 euros these days!). He works up finished drawings in the studio with a dip pen-his favourite have of course stopped being manufactured, I seem to recall he said they were made by Atom? He gave me one & I asked him if he could spare it, he said I needn't worry he has 600!
He advised me that the best nibs have good flexibility in them & that often when buying a pack he would have to through at least half away because they break! It seems Mr Searle struggles as much as the rest of us. . .

Steve said...

Thanks Matt, don't suppose you know which MontBlanc it is... And is the atom nib a scratchy crowquill or globe bowl or what?

Matt J said...

The one he gave me is an extremely sharp one! Not sure which Montblanc though-he said he likes the ones he has because they give him a range of line thickness from very fine to thick. He would even draw with the back of the nib to get that thick wobbly effect.

Steve said...

Yes I read about that back-of-the-nib trick in the article you posted with the Old Bailey picture... Hmm...I'll ask over at Fountain Pen Network...Thanks. I have real trouble with sharp nibs myself which is why I'm exploring Fountain Pens now.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! After being away for a while I re-discovered your blogs and just spent a couple of hours catching up. What a treat! Yours is one of the best artist blogs on the net! It's a crime that some newspaper hasn't picked up on your travel sketches and thrown money at you to draw for them!

Matt J said...

Hey thnx Uncle Eddie-I'm flattered. On your urging I shall start contacting some art editors-thnx for the encouragement.

Mo! said...

Searle is a touchstone for so many of us.

I am greatly looking forward to your report.

I have a nib from Schulz, which I use with glee. A Searle one... wow.

Mo

Jack Ruttan said...

Very inspirational -- thanks!

cartoonretro said...

Wonderful!
S.

John Musker said...

What a coup! Breaking cheese and talking nibs with one of the greatest and most influential draughtsmen of the last 100 years. Congrats on your persistence and good fortune!!

merf said...

matt, I love the old olive trees, well done on the interview!

geraldraws said...

Hi Matt ! I was trying to get in touch with Mister Searle for about 3 years for the Sketchtravel's sketchbook and I always failed...damned, I aware how big is this meeting is ! You can be proud man. Thank you for sharing this rare moment !

JoeyCee said...

I am green with envy! Great drawing too..Searlesgue

Paul Shardlow said...

I am speechless with jealousy!

Melvina said...

Wow, how amazing!! How fortunate of you to have been able to visit an old master within his lifetime and listen to his stories! Thank you for posting your rendez vous with Ronald Searle.

Ginger said...

Matt - My husband and I just recently acquired a drawing by Mr. Searle titled "Pussie Willow II". It says on the back that it hung in the Smithsonian in 1982. Do you know how much the value is of this drawing? Or who could tell us? Please email me and let me know. Thanks! And congratulations on meeting Mr. Searle, sounds like it was an awesome experience. -Ginger (gnlong@henrico.k12.va.us)

Matt J said...

Hey Ginger-can't get your email to work! Mine is my blogger profile. Can you send me a photo/scan of your Searle? I assume it's a 'cat' drawing? Is it dated?

Matt J said...

Ginger-your email address keeps bouncing my replies back. Here's my response:
---Hi Ginger, unfortunately that's not a Searle drawing. The good news is =
it's by Rowland Emett, Searle's contemporary when they both worked for PUNC=
H magazine in the 50s. The drawing has been misidentified as a Searle or pe=
rhaps he owned the drawing.

Not sure of the value of it but Emett was famous for his fantastic train dr=
awings & designs of contraptions. In fact he was responsible for the desig=
n of the flying car in the movie 'Chitty Chitty bang Bang'. He would build=
his inventions too.

Check Sotheby's or Christies websites to see how much Emett drawings go for

Aparna said...

very beautiful artwork
web designer

Brad said...

Fabulous! Thanks so much for posting this! How frickin' cool!