Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. I travelled to France to meet illustration great, Ronald Searle. For more info see About
It’s a location that would be the envy of many – a medieval hilltop village with beautiful hazy blue views over Southern France. We’re driving up from the coast with book photographer Andrea’s husband at the wheel, off the motorway onto the winding pine tracked roads up into Provence highlands. Ronald’s hand drawn map he’d sent to me comes in handy.
I’m amazed to have got here at all given the crack of dawn start from Nice interrupted by a French rail strike chucking me off in the middle of nowhere, followed by frantic phone calls to Andrea trying to tell her where I was. Ou? Je ne sais pas! So much for French A level popping back into your head when you need it…
Luckily we’re on time in the end. Ronald and his wife, Monica, meet us at a swanky local restaurant and generously treat us to a sophisticated meal which happily includes his famous ‘engine oil’, pink champagne (oh, go on, just one more glass then). Ronald and I have a good chat about the Association of Illustrators, of which he is a patron, and Varoom magazine which he likes.
He’s just celebrated his 90th birthday (this is in 2010) and has been pleasantly surprised by the interest generated in the UK (Two exhibitions, plus another in Germany, plus a fair amount of press). He thought we’d forgotten about him. As if.
Back at the Searles’ multi level house in the village we are shown around and see a book lined room where Ronald stores many of his reference books and videos, back down in the living room we do our interview. Monica sits in with us, adding amusing asides. Ronald’s still taking on commissions, though there is not a lot of artwork around as he has bequeathed all his sketchbooks and artworks to the Wilhelm-Busch museum in Hanover, Germany.
Ronald is fascinating to talk to – he’s seen so much and lived through many changes, and this has given him a unique way of visually interpreting our world. Amazing drawing coupled with strong ideas, and powerful and often humourous assessments of the human character.
We all take the many staircases up to the roof, via several small terraces, and Monica reveals that they don’t come up here much anymore as it’s too strenuous at their age. She is a jewellery artist, and her studio is right at the top looking out over the hills.
It’s a beautiful afternoon, and I would have happily stayed longer sipping pink champagne and talking to one of my illustration heroes, but it’s a long drive back to the seaside, so we reluctantly take our leave. One of my most memorable days.
Ronald Searle blog Perpetua by Matt Jones