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'
'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.'
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.