Some people emphatically state ‘I can’t draw’ and that’s mainly because, they say, they ‘couldn’t draw a straight line.’ But that’s good, I respond, straight lines are for architects! For quick sketching, they’re unnecessary and possibly boring, too; my sketched buildings would never pass the engineering test. They tend to look either rickety or keeled over by strong winds, and I do that on purpose for dynamic composition. The influence Paul Hogarth had on me was profound: none of this British artist’s buildings are ever straight and I think the effect is marvelous. Clearly, he held his pen or pencil loosely, sketching fast and right-handed, so his buildings and most of his people, too, tend to lean somewhat to the right and bulge a bit on the left. His drawings of streetscapes and cities are highly dynamic in the ways he took liberties with perspective, foreshortening and viewpoints: he utilized whatever worked to make the drawing more interesting and with that, he broke the urban artist’s traditional straightjacket of drawing buildings ‘correctly.’
Paul Hogarth (1917–2001) began by drawing scenes of journalistic importance, much like Topolski and McMahon, the other two reporter-artists I wrote about. His youthful Communist sentiments and political affiliations helped in gaining access to some of the inner-circle authorities in countries like China and Russia, for instance, during the time when lefties in the West were still enthusiastically focused on Communism as an alternative to Capitalism, while periodicals published by socialist cliques and organizations were still easy to find. So Hogarth’s subject matter would often be the rapid, labour-intensive industrialization in these countries, as well as the re-building efforts in devastated post-WWII Eastern Europe. But, when Communism decidedly lost its glow, his ‘socialist-realist’ fervor faded and turned to more literary and contemporary subjects in everyday times: city scenes, social events, urban and industrial architecture both modern and historical, usually peopled by all sorts of characters that happened to pass by. Hogarth had to admit to the simultaneous love-affair with the USA he’d always had as well, particularly his interest in the history of what became of the initial British settlement of the continent. He’s the artist I couldn’t get enough of. I have a shelf-full of books of drawings by him, if not one of his – now expensive – originals.
Yes, it’s possible that he’s the great-great and even greater grandson of William Hogarth, the famous 18th Century illustrator/critic of ‘immoral’ society. Paul Hogarth, once he’d made a name for himself with his art, not only produced several books himself, but also had the good fortune to be teamed up with some eminent writers to create great book projects, such as Brendan Behan (on Ireland and New York City), Doris Lessing (Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe/Zambia), Malcolm Muggeridge (on ‘sixties Swinging London), Graham Greene (revisiting the locations Greene wrote about in his books, such as Cuba, Haiti, France, Vietnam, Argentina) and Stephen Spender (‘America Observed’).
In his autobiography called ‘Drawing on Life’ (1997/Posthumous softcover edition 2002), a book that reads like an adventure story, Hogarth vividly describes his experience of working with Irish playwright Brendan Behan, which was, to him, essentially one continuous, often frustratingly drunken affair. ‘I don’t give a damn whether or not an artist is effin abstract or effin realist, jes so long as they’re not effin illiterate or teetotal!’ Behan said to sum up his take on doing a book together. Traveling from pub to pub, never in a hurry to reach a destination or an interviewee, Hogarth had to figure out himself how to give shape to the book; no indication from Behan was forthcoming as to which topics he’d be addressing. He was a talker, a story-teller rather than a writer (for him, deadlines didn’t exist) and yet, two marvelous books full of portraits of pub denizens combined with rollicking anecdotes came out of this wild collaboration: ‘Brendan Behan’s Island’ (1962) and Brendan Behan’s New York’ (1964). Again, Behan’s retort when shown his portrait, just finished by Hogarth: ‘Time marches bloody on; I must bloody well look like that! Sure, it would be a bloody miracle if I didn’t!’
After the success of these books, a publisher’s idea to team Hogarth up with poet and classicist Robert Graves for a book about life on the island of Majorca resulted in ‘Robert Graves’s Island’ (1965) as well as in Hogarth’s enduring love for the place. He lived in Deya on the North side of the island on and off for the rest of his life, close to the aristocratic Graves whose intimidating presence resembled that of a ‘Roman consul’ in Hogarth’s eyes.
In the mid-eighties, I traveled to Valencia, Spain with my then partner. Across the Mediterranean water, on the island of Majorca, we had friends to visit and we planned to go. I lugged my portfolio all around Europe to attempt, out of keen curiosity, a meeting with ‘my’ much-admired artist Paul Hogarth while there. As it turned out, the ferry crossing we had booked was cancelled, the alternative sailings were full, and the visit never happened. In any event, it would have been sheer luck to find him there because Hogarth, then in his heydays, didn’t sit around; he was producing non-stop creative work all over the world. After the huge success of the book called ‘Graham Greene Country’ (1986), he was commissioned to follow in the footsteps of other famous writers, notably Lawrence Durrell and D.H. Lawrence, and also illustrated a book about Peter Mayle’s Provence. He illustrated book jackets, plays, poetry, articles, and did portfolios full of drawings and prints to be exhibited at galleries. A splendid career, indeed, and what a life, living in gorgeous places, visiting his famous writers’ hideaways, dining with Important People on location, and studying local cultures for the best visual commentary. Best of all, these forays were often ‘all expenses paid’ by the various publishers that contracted him. Hogarth made a good living as a figurative, narrative artist: in the last few years of his life, he ended up living at Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds of all places, surrounded by its renowned topiary gardens. Judging by his writing style, he was charming, witty, a good storyteller and all-round good company, or else, one assumes, the famously sharp writers he hung out with would have lost interest in these collaborations pretty quickly.
Hogarth, during teaching stints at several art schools, the Royal London Academy among them in order to make a living in his younger years, wrote an educational series of books on how to draw architecture, or people, and make more creative pencil and ink drawings: all of them great platforms on which to share his drawings with a wider public and encourage people to try it for themselves, long before the term ‘urban sketching’ was even invented. That’s definitely a ‘thing’ these days; many cities in the world now have their own groups of people meeting in the streets to draw, greatly assisted by the internet and social media.
Not only a superb practitioner himself, Hogarth also had an abiding intellectual interest in the history of his chosen field and his many predecessors working in the tradition of ‘The Artist as Reporter.’ The big, profusely illustrated, well-researched book (1986) that resulted under that title traces the history of illustrated ‘newspapering’ in different political settings: Russia, France and the UK for instance. It’s a wide-ranging, fascinating topic; so extensive that it warrants another post on this blog in future.
Already well before the publication of this book, Hogarth had a fascination with the USA where he frequently spent time drawing historical colonial locations, but also the sometimes ‘over-the-top’ cultural expressions of its people, so quizzical in the eyes of a first-time European visitor (the ‘biggest,’ the ‘highest;’ the kitsch, the advertising quotient etc.). But he was particularly intrigued with ‘the Old West,’ the days of the British colonization of the American New World and the conquest of the ‘Indians’ as depicted on location by English traveling adventurer-artists. So, another big illustrated book came out of Hogarth’s extensive research of this era: ‘Artists on Horseback: The Old West in Illustrated Journalism 1857 – 1900’ (1972). The visual documentation of events here was a particularly strong tradition during the times of Victorian England with its well-developed popular printed press. Hogarth includes descriptions of the hardships these artists had to be willing to endure in the field, the logistics of getting their original sketches mailed to England as fast as possible, and how the drawings were made print-ready utilizing the available reproduction techniques before the age of photography. Most often, the drawings were copied and rendered into wood engravings, ‘translated’ as faithfully as possible by office staff artists. The weekly pictorials were then posted behind the windows of the newspaper’s building for the non-subscribing, poorer public to see. Examples of such ‘picture papers’ were the Graphic, the Illustrated London News and Harper’s Weekly, the American equivalent. The stories were shot through with the constant dread of the traveling pioneers and their families who expected to be ambushed and killed – and scalped! – at any time by legitimately desperate Native warriors, and yet, the British couldn’t help but also admire the courage and bravery of these ‘noble savages.’ Some of the artists had a genuine anthropological interest and choose to befriend the Indians they encountered on these expeditions, sketching their portraits, dress and customs – still useful knowledge to academic researchers now. Hogarth chose eight artists whose work he especially admired and traces their steps through the opening up of the West. These so-called ‘Special Artists’ or ‘Specials’ worked with their newspaper employers’ European mass readership in mind and thus produced illustrations not always devoid, shall we say, of romanticism, exoticism, sensational violence and cruelty, and, naturally, a dose of white supremacy: a kind of ‘pre-Hollywood’ before the medium of film existed. These were the days of Empire and the newspapers with their visual reporting played an active role in immigration stimulation as well as business and investment promotion: east-west continental railway construction played a pivotal part in growing economic interest among the British in the rapidly developing American and Canadian scene. A book about the reportorial artistic tradition written by someone who’s a contemporary working artist makes the commentary even more astute.
When I was 32 years old and visiting San Francisco again, I amazed even myself with my temerity to call a well-known American book publisher (head of Anchor Books, Doubleday) out of the blue. Under the strong influence of Paul Hogarth’s work combined with my youthful arrogance and ambition, I managed to convince him to meet and look at my portfolio of drawings done in India the year before. The meeting took place at his house in Berkeley. He was a mild-mannered, older man, seemingly bemused about this unorthodox pitch of mine. I think he liked my work. He thought out loud about what could be done, imagining a partnership with one of his established authors, journalist Richard Critchfield, to create an illustrated book of his ‘village India’ writings. He would give the idea some thought. However, with no career history whatsoever on my part to go on – just a load of raw enthusiasm and moxy – it didn’t happen of course. But that was the closest I came to do a coveted project in Paul Hogarth’s vein, with a well-known writer like Critchfield who was, in the LA Times’ words, ‘part newspaperman, part vagabond and part scholar.’ Another man after my heart! And only a few inches away from a possible dream-career: shades of Topolski, McMahon and Hogarth. I still shake my head.
As it turned out, I didn’t do too badly in the end, becoming an editorial illustrator at western Canada’s major daily, the Vancouver Sun. Drawing for a living. But no, not in a million years would they have sent me to any faraway place to draw an event (not even to Surrey, an old colleague of mine commented wryly), let alone understand what I was even suggesting. This old newspaper tradition is dead and long forgotten. Even the work I still did at the tail-end of the broadsheet printed daily’s era – illustrations to accompany background-to-the-news articles on the Op-Ed page – has also all but disappeared forever. That makes me a dinosaur, but my good dinosaur’s enthusiasms survive. Studying the drawings of the four artists I described in this blog series, the ones that introduced me to the genre that interests me most, continues to be a joy and an inspiration to me. In a future post, I’ll try to pinpoint some of these influences most clearly visible in my own work.
Masthead illustration above: Lam Son Square, Saigon, from ‘Graham Greene Country’ – The Quiet American.’