UKJarry interprets the images thus: 'Largely unknown to the general public, Searle had been making extreme investigations into how far he could go in abstract representations of human beings. In 1962-63, he had worked on a series of ink and wash compositions he titled “Anatomies and Decapitations”. Exhibited in only a few galleries, they disturbed many of Searle’s firmest admirers and have never been published. They are the most abstract work Searle has ever done.
They almost all either huge heads or a few distracted skeletal figures reminiscent of late period Picassos. Some are just splayed slashes of lines, others are circular or oval stains with blotches or sequences of scratches for features. A rejection of his apparently perfected professional style, they resemble nothing Searle had done before. Yet in each Searle is able to find a means of presenting a figure who looks beatific, moronic, anxious, prim, or explosive. It is tempting to detect the influence of Andre Francois in these works (as Francois’s work in“Punch” was a similarly intense influence on emerging graphic artists like Ralph Steadman, Gerald Scarfe, and Quentin Blake).
In 1960, Searle’s Perpetua Press had published a collection of Francois’s work, “The Biting Eye”. Francois drawing style was scratchy, messy, blotchy. His deliberately rudimentary and scribbly figures were not the standard blocky cartoony figures. Despite being highly non-representative, Francois’s work captured something essential about humans and their behaviour. Likewise, “Anatomies and Decapitations” shows Searle discovering how he could convey complex emotions freed of the restraints of human particularity or the contexts of social customs.
The first real product of these investigations intended for a popular audience was Searle’s Cats (1967). Searle had previously worked with animals, illustrating Geoffrey Willans’s The Dog’s Ear Book (1958), but those had been cartoonish animals, akin to the trotting figures of the Molesworth books, shaggy human actors in human situations with human responses. Searle’s cats would be much more abstract in composition. As Searle’s humans become less figuratively real, so he uses his cats to represent human states without relying on reductive realism. . .
Devoid of any background, through the shape of the cats’ bodies and arrangement of the minimum of facial elements, Searle embodies mournful, complacent, persevering, avaricious, or aghast expressions to match his titles. Searle would later redraw many of the works in his first Cat book, but in the earliest edition, their origin in “Anatomies and Decapitations” is apparent. These were much messier creations in blobby inks, with rather splashy harsh gray washes like the blotchy faces of “Anatomies and Decapitations” spread out to occupy a theoretical cat-space with slashes for whiskers. . .
The scenery of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen are typical of Searle but Searle’s figure of the Baron is an abstract bristling detonation of ink.For all that his facial features present a recognisable goggle-eyed, manic grinning buffoon, his body is an almost indecipherable sequence of blobs, dribbles, slashes and angles – yet evidently tightly conceived and executed since the figure is always consistently recognisable in each illustration.'