Here are the 5 things I love most about the work of the great Ronald Searle (1920 - ).
1.) He is absolutely fearless with ink: the bite and splatter of his drawing remind you how people used to draw before software was invented.
Searle makes a serious commitment with ink, one that requires not only skill but courage. His drawings have the potential to go horribly awry if Searle ends up an inch to the left or right of his goal.
2.) Searle is able to step back from familar shapes and reinvent them: It is very hard to unlearn our basic assumptions about anatomy. Most artists who try end up merely exagggerating. But look at how Searle reinvents the human form. Think it's easy? Try it yourself. Or ask Picasso.
3.) Searle draws with great visual intelligence. You can tell from his artistic solutions that there is a radiant mind at work here.
4.) Even as an old man, Searle's work is playful and humorous (with all the subversiveness that implies).
5.) Finally, I like the path Searle followed. If I drew the way Searle did when he started out as an illustrator, I would have given up and gone in search of honest work.
Yet, Searle persevered and became one of the most influential illustrators of the second half of the 20th century. You can see his strong influence on Mort Drucker, Pat Oliphant and a whole generation of pen and ink artists who followed him. What happened to transform Searle's work? Was he hit by a lightning bolt? Did he have a mystic vision in the night? No one can say for sure, but I suspect part of the answer lies in the following quote:
At the Cambridge art school it was drummed into us that we should not eat, drink or sleep without a sketchbook in the hand. Consequently the habit of looking and drawing became as natural as breathing.Searle never stopped drawing, and over the years his powerful style gradually emerged, as natural and organic as breathing.