Showing posts with label Yugoslavia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yugoslavia. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Poland 1948

The year after their trip around Yugoslavia Searle and fellow illustrator Paul Hogarth visited Poland to record the post war devastation.

'In August 1948, Searle was traveling across Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland where he and Paul Hogarth, with a small group of sketchers, were sneaked in the Intellectuals’ Congress for World Peace at Wroclaw.'
'In the summer of 1948 I arranged a trip to Poland.  Besides Ronald Searle, I invited the art historian, Millicent Rose.  Ronald again displayed incredible versatility in tackling a wide variety of subject matter.  We stayed in Prague en route for several days and drew the picturesque lanes of the Mala Strana below Hradcany Castle.  We visited in succession Warsaw, Gdansk, Cracow, Zakopane and Katowice, ending our stay in Wroclaw'  -Paul Hogarth

'The offer of another trip to Eastern Europe came as a most welcome interruption.  Czechoslovakia and Poland were the destinations this time.  To Searle it was a revelation just to get as far as Nuremberg and form, in the ruins of the city, some idea of the European conflict he had missed.  Czechoslovakia proved frustrating.  Searle did meet the sculptor Franta Belsky there, and made another great friend, but the queues for Polish visas in Prague were impossibly long.  Searle and Hogarth might have spent their whole time waiting had they not met a film-maker called Ludwik Perski - a friend of their common acquaintance, Feliks Topolski - who happened to be shooting some footage inside the Polish Embassy. He inventively proposed to the bureaucrats a flattering scene wherein the visas of some distinguished visiting artists would be stamped; and so Searle made his European film debut in the act of 'being offered a cigarette, being shaken warmly by the hand, and miming the reception of a visa from the hand of the Vice-Consul'.  The real visa came two days later, and Searle and Hogarth continued on their way. . . '    (-Russell Davies)

'. . . they both worked very hard on this journey.  Hogarth had an assignment from Coal magazine, so they went down the mines in Silesia.  They toured Krakow and Gdansk, and witnessed a Warsaw that 'didn't exist'; and they were sneaked in, along with a small army of sketchers, to witness the Intellectuals' Congress at Wroclaw, an event attended by an odd troupe of international talents, from Picasso to Ehrenburg, Fadeyev to A.J.P.Taylor.   Since the Soviet Union was at that moment breaking off relations with the United States over an extradition matter, the proceedings were more notable for controversy than enlightenment, but the sensation of standing on a political and philosophical borderline was exciting.  Searle returned to England feeling that the journey had been the most important thing to happen to him intellectually since his imprisonment, an experience he could now place in a fuller cultural context.  Having visited Auschwitz and seen what intelligent, cultured members of the European tradition were capable of, he came to distinguish in his own mind between excusable and inexcusable barbarity.  'Scientific elimination,' he decided, 'is quite different from someone beating a thousand people to death because they can't communicate.  It's not the same attitude.  And so the preference was there: I'd rather have Japanese fascists than Nazis.'   (-Russell Davies)

'The extent of the destruction in Poland stunned us.  In Warsaw, the Old Town's once-exquisite churches and grandiose palaces - indeed, any buildings of distinction - lay in ruins.  Yet Ronald executed a series of dramatic scenes drawn on the spot in his famous 'ink', which wasn't ink at all but Stephen's Liquid Stain!  He may have sounded like the British actor, David Niven, but ih his company I witnessed at first hand the degree of creative interpretation that only the artist can bring to pictorial reporting. '  -Paul Hogarth

'You and Ronald Searle went to Poland in 1948 and were astounded by the extent of the destruction. At the Congress of Intellectuals for Peace, you drew luminaries ‘making fools of themselves by siding with the Soviets against the Americans’ – as you put it. Did you write that with hindsight or had disillusionment with Communism begun even then?

That’s hindsight. What I did see and what I remember feeling was that these people who were communists has so much vanity, the same amount of vanity and egotism as anybody else, and that was quite a revelation.
You speak of Searle with admiration as by far the superior craftsman, and you hoped that travel would bring out the artist in you. You say at one point: ‘Like a Christian pilgrim of old, i sought spiritual adventure.’ Can you explain what you meant by ‘spiritual’ in that context?

I tried to find things that would move me. I tried to find issues that I could draw, and dramatize, but it wasn’t until I went to Greece during the general’s regime that I found a theme which I could interpret – the scenes of suffering outside the prisons in Athens, the political prisoners, and the lines of women carrying food parcels.  Communists had done terrible things in Greece, but the generals were also very harsh and I only saw that one side. Experience of life, that’s what I was seeking, so that I could develop as an artist.'
'At Janov, near Katowice, we entered the grimy world of the Silesian coalfield, where fiercely mustached miners hacked and shoveled in almost total darkness.  The air was thick with coal dust and the temperature well above 80°F.'
-Paul Hogarth

View of Wieczack Mine, near Silesia, Poland 

Searle told me they didn't quite get to meet their idol Picasso although Feliks Topolski was able to get close enough to dash out some sketches of the artist.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


In August-September 1947, Searle and four other British artists spent three weeks in Yugoslavia at the invitation of the Peoples’ Youth Railway project, linking Ĺ amac to Sarajevo. Joining the 460-strong British brigade they drew and painted in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. The groups' drawings and paintings were  exhibited the following year at the Leicester Galleries in London.  Five of Searle's drawings were published in 'The Railway: An Adventure in Construction' (1948).

Paul Hogarth writes in his autobiography:

“In the spring of 1947 I was asked to select four artists to record the building of a railway in the wilds of eastern Bosnia, then part of Yugoslavia.  At once I thought of Ronald Searle, who was becoming known through the pages of Punch and Lilliput.  His remarkable chronicle of life in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps had made a big impression on the public, and had he not helped to build another railway, a railway of death?  Still gaunt from the experience, he looked like a Grunewald Christ.  The other members of the group were Laurence Scarfe, who represented the English pastoral tradition of topographical watercolour painting; Percy Horton, the distinguished tutor of drawing at the RCA; the art historian Francis Klingender; and myself.
We departed in high spirits and, after an arduous train journey, finally arrived at Llubljana, the Slovene capital, in the sweltering heat of August.  The next day we began a demanding week drawing in the souks of Sarajevo and Zenica, before continuing to the construction sites of the 'Youth Railway', where we drew brawny, sun-bronzed students, wizened peasants and smooth-talking officials. . . 
". . . Inspiration on the trip did not come from our subject matter, but from Ronald Searle himself. His appetite for drawing was prodigious and totally undiminished by travel or fatigue. He would produce three or four large ink and wash drawings of construction scenes each day, plus numerous figure studies in pencil or conte. At night he would update his journal. It was the first time I had become acquainted with a working artist of my own generation and we became good friends. The business of getting to grips with the reality in front of you was not something that had been taught at art school,and seeing Searle work, I realised that this was something I had to master."


'Yugoslav Miner'

'Peasant Boy, Yranduk' 

'Study of a boy, Vvduduk'

In a review of the exhibition dated February 20th, 1948 the 'Spectator' remarks on the drawings "by Ronald Searle, whose impressive graphic facility sometimes recalls the early John" - Augustus John I presume.



'Passport to Peking' by Patrick Wright

Our Time Volumes 7-8
Studio International Volume 137
The Spectator Volume 180