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June 14, 2011

Ronald Searle - Artist, Satirist, Cartoonist

Ronald Searle in video interview, 2010
Ronald Searle in video interview, March 2010

Ronald Searle, born March 3, 1920 in Cambridge, England, is mainly known in that country for his humorous (and wickedly satirical) cartoons about the beastly girls who attend the fictional St. Trinian's school for girls and for his Molesworth cartoons about a boy named Nigel Molesworth who attends a terrible boy's school. I had not heard of these much-beloved "school" cartoons or the books of cartoons or movies based on them...Well, in fact, I still have not seen them other than a few examples of each when I came across an interview with Searle recorded at the time of his 90th birthday; but I recognized his name right away and knew he was a famous cartoonist and that I have enjoyed his cartoons...probably I had seen them in magazines as I have always loved political and social commentary cartoons of a satirical nature and have never been able to get enough of them. Charmed by the interview and amazed that he was still alive (apparently many people are similarly amazed, since he left England to make his home in France and left behind St. Trinian's et all in 1961), I dove in and found out more about Searle so I could write this post on him.

Nigel Molesworth by Ronald Searle

Nigel Molesworth - Picture is from video interview with Ronald Searle

Although the "school" cartoons are quite famous, Searle has done much, much more and in fact was very glad to leave them behind so he could devote himself to other subjects. I've put together a page on Searle in the Thinking About Art Library. As the "Library" is actually an annex to this blog, I'll let you go there to watch a couple of videos in a much larger size than would fit in the format of this blog; one of the videos is of an interview with Searle at the time of his 90th birthday (in 2010) and the other shows illustrations he made for Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." There are also some links on the page to interesting articles on Searle, and a link to a site where you can find hundreds of his books (used) at low prices.

Cat from cartoon by Searle

From Searle cartoon shown in video interview with Ronald Searle

Searle's forte is satire, sometimes very strong satire. He has said that his experience as a prisoner of war made him take everything more seriously from that time on, inclining him to see the "dark side" of things.

Already an artist who had been obsessed with drawing since he was a child, his four years as a POW (held by the Japanese) when a very young man gave him "purpose," he says. He felt that he had to record what was happening, to illustrate what he and his fellow prisoners of war were going through which he felt people should know about, and so he drew prolifically while a prisoner, on whatever blank surface he could get his hands on, trading cigarettes for scraps of paper (he traded drawings for the cigarettes). He hasn't stopped drawing since. He is amazed himself at how much he has drawn during his lifetime. The interview video will give you a good idea of how much he has done. And he continues drawing even in his nineties, and why not, as it's what he loves. Currently he is drawing for the Paris daily "Le Monde." "It is the illustrations for Le Monde by which he now wishes to be judged, and he hopes they will appear next year in an English- language version of a book already in print in France. They are simple, stark and highly political condemnations of political chicanery and double-dealing, corporate greed and global inequality." (Quote is from a December 2006 profile on Ronald Searle in The Guardian.)

Ronald Searle - POW drawing

Drawing Searle made as a POW - from
video interview (see link below)

Searle is a man with a point of view, with strong feelings...with something he wants to say (though sometimes he's kidding, as in the "school" cartoons), and what he wants to say comes out very, very strongly in his drawings - though of course his feelings are exaggerated - that's what makes them "comic." His caricatures are all expression. He doesn't worry about making something look superficially "realistic," as that isn't necessary and in fact would get in the way of what he wants you to know about it/him/her/the situation - It's the exaggeration of some characteristics (and contraction or even absence of others), and gestures, proximity, etc. that tell us what the characters are really like or what they're thinking.

From Ronald Searle cartoon

From a cartoon by Searle - from video interview in 2010
Ronald Searle has illustrated dozens and dozens of books, has drawn for animated films, has made many, many cartoons for such magazines as Punch, The New Yorker, and Holiday, and also has created advertisements...among other things.

Ronald Searle Videos and links in the Thinking About Art Library.

Man with cigar from cartoon by Searle

From a cartoon by Searle, shown in a 2010 video interview.

Note: My posts always "fall apart" when they're first published, with too much space between some things and not enough between others.  I will correct these things as I can as I can.

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