photo montage of the fishing boat Blue Linnet being lifted for maintenance.
It has been a while since I posted anything on this blog. It wasn’t my intention to stop for so long, but time has passed incredible quickly.
In September we lifted our home Blue Linnet out of the water for several weeks of much needed maintenance. Planks were replaced, and parts of the strake renewed, rot was fixed in the bulwarks and a few minor patches in the hull. Everything was painted, although we ran out of enough time and good weather to entirely complete this, antifouling was done and anodes were replaced. Thank you to everyone who helped.
By the middle of October we were back on our mooring and six weeks later I had a baby boy. I am afraid our dear son will be doomed to a lifetime of wooden boat maintenance and an encyclopaedic knowledge of boat construction and nautical terms. I suspect he will want to be an accountant in rebellion.
He is now 14 weeks old and my days are filled with nappies, as a result I am not doing as much drawing as I would like. However in a bid to maintain some thread of my work I have started a sketchbook/ notebook to record his early days, a kind of scrapbook memento. I will inevitable blog on this further as it comes together.
Drawn reportage is often overlooked, and reportage in the form of a graphic novel is easy to dismiss in favour of a photographic or written account of the same event; but in this interview Chris Hedges highlights the advantages of this graphic approach over more traditional forms of reportage. I hope you enjoy it.
Ronald Searle was never acknowledged as an official war artist, despite risking his life to produce a exceptional body of work recording his experience as a Japanese prisoner of war in Singapore and Thailand. Some of these drawings will be exhibited alongside his better known cartoons, in a tribute exhibition, Ronald Searle Remembered(1920-2011) at the Chris Beetles Gallery, 8 & 10 Ryder Street, London, SW1Y 6QB, from 22nd May to 9th June 2012.
By the end of January 1942 the British Forces had abandoned the Malayan mainland to the Japanese, and fallen back to Singapore Island. Within a few days the Japanese had assembled more than 50,000 prisoners of war, and marched them the 14 miles to Changi, the area occupying the Eastern end of Singapore Island. Ronald Searle was one of these prisoners. In a remarkable burst of reportage immediately after capitulation Searle documented the triumph of the Japanese, and the collapsed postures and glazed expressions of the defeated allied soldiers.
As conditions worsened, his sense of mission grew in strength. Health, opportunity and materials permitting, he would bring back from this experience a pictorial record of scenes which, he already knew, would otherwise scarcely be believed. It was important work – unique, as it turned out – and it was an objective reason to survive, which every man would come to need.
A supply route from Siam (Thailand) to Burma was essential for the Japanese war effort, but it had previously been accepted it would be impossible to build given the extreme terrain and the debilitating tropical weather. Large numbers of expendable labourers would be needed, and on the 8th May 1942 Searle and the rest of ‘H’ force were moved out. They endured a 100 mile march to the section of track where they would begin work. The prisoners were already severely malnourished and started to die of fevers and exhaustion. Searle who had suffered from enteritis, gastritis and tropical ulcers back in the camp at Changi was in comparatively good shape. Even during the punishing march he made drawings. He continued to record the routine of the day, drawing up later those scenes he could not capture from life. Sometimes making drawings at first light before beginning 18 hours of labour on the railway.
During the time Searle spent working on the railway he contracted Malaria, Dengue fever and Beri-Beri; and suffered from repeated beatings, including the attack of a Japanese guard on one of his hands. He narrowly escaped the airborne cholera that was killing so many others. Men in agonies of hunger would throw away their rice if they saw a fly land on it rather than risk contracting cholera. The fact that Searle drew these scenes makes them possible to imagine.
The Siam – Burma Railway was completed on the 25th October 1943, ahead of schedule. It is said that one man died for every sleeper laid. Searle survived, barely, and was transferred to the Sime Road Camp in Singapore. A fellow prisoner Russell Braddon described him at this time.
He could barely move, and we had no food, he had dysentery, malaria and was covered in running sores and each day we expected him to die…If you canimagine something that weighs six stone or so, is on the point of death and has no qualities of the human condition that aren’t revolting, calmly lying there with a pencil and a scrap of paper, drawing, you have some idea of the difference in temperament that this man had from the ordinary human being.
5 months later Searle was transferred to Changi Gaol, where 10,000 prisoners were housed in a facility intended for just 600. On the 24th September 1945 Singapore was formally surrendered; and on the 24th October, nearly 4 years after he left England, Searle arrived in Liverpool.
He had managed to create a body of work considerable enough to make him eligible retrospectively as a war artist, but the Artist Advisory Committee never granted this. In November 1946, a selection of his war drawings were published under the title 40 Drawings. Despite editing which minimised the scenes of forced labour and torture, the book remained powerful enough to distress. There was, during this period of time, a great deal the general public was anxious to forget, and so the publication was not a success. The drawings were put away and were not published again for forty years, when they were finally bought to the public’s attention with the publishing of the book To The Kwai and Back.
For 6 weeks I have not drawn which has been a welcome break, but I am increasingly aware of how rusty my drawings skills are becoming. If I start to practice now then my eye hand coordination ought to be back relatively quickly, but leave it much longer and it will become a gargantuan task. So the question is what to do next?
A daily drawing practice seems to be a topic that comes up a lot. I have tried this in the past, but never managed to maintain it for long. Day to day life presents me with the same familiar things, so finding something I actually want to draw and half an hour to draw it in is difficult to maintain. Matthew Brehm stresses the importance of a daily drawing practice; he suggests that making multiple thumbnails has a greater effect on drawing skills than making one more sustained drawing.
Steve Wilkin draws his fellow commuters, but working from home, I have no commute. Melanie Reim instructs her students to draw 100 hands and 100 feet every week, good practice as hands and feet are particularly unforgiving. I have seen her in lectures with the pages of her sketchbook divided into squares in which she makes quick thumbnail sketches. I think this is an excellent idea, however, I live in a rural area and I doubt I see that many hands and feet in a week, let alone get the chance to draw them.
I could create a daily journal, drawing some significant part of the day and perhaps writing a brief diary entry, but in the past when I have tried this I have waited all day for something significant to reveal itself, only to find myself late at night drawing my drying laundry just for the sake of making a drawing. A boring exercise which leads to boring drawings. I am not ready to commit to another long term sustained project yet, and I find it difficult to draw without some purpose, to me that feels like mindlessly filling up bits of paper. I am still undecided as to what my daily drawing practice should be – any suggestions?
Freja was launched on Saturday 7th April, there was a great party which filled the boatyard with well wishers despite the april showers. Freja is now being put through her paces by her new owners Marion and Anders Johnson, and will based around Falmouth for the summer of 2012. They intend to head further north with her next year.
Since then I have been scanning all my drawings ready to be included on my website. They are finally done and you can see the completed project here. My life and the Working Sail shed seem a little empty having completed 20 months of work on this project, but I have plenty of ideas for my next one. For now I am happy to not have been sitting drawing in the torrential rain we have had for the last month. There may be hosepipe bans in the rest of the country, but in Cornwall this really isn’t necessary.