Sunday 18 September 2011

On inspiration

Tonight I am torturing myself, there's no other word for it, by looking at the artwork of many of my heroes. This normally undermines my confidence in my own ability to such an extent that I plumb the depths of a big depression for a day or two. So I figured, before I just give up, I might as well get a blog post out of it.

Almost no-one has ever asked me who my influences are, artistically speaking. However, never one to read the signals, I've decided to share with you my favourite five. Normally when I do a list it's strictly in no particular order. But this one is in a particular order. Because I'm quite evangelical about these matters and feel this is very important stuff. Accompanying each of the five is a picture or two which particularly excites me.

5. Gerald Scarfe
I'm not a great fan of Scarfe's later work, from the 1990s onward. It got a bit too stylised and pointy for my taste. However, that's just personal preference. Scarfe remains one of the most important visual artists of the 20th Century. His visceral, brutal, exploding, putrid, terrifying and savage vision completely revolutionised political cartoons and caricatures for the Beatles' generation.

4. Giles
From one extreme to another. Giles worked for decades as the Express' cartoonist, but his was as far from the overtly political role that it has since become. Instead Giles captured an everyday Britain, reacting and adjusting to the changing world rather than trying to influence it. His canon is as profound a social history of Britain from World War II until the end of the Thatcher era as any you will find in print or on television. There's also the small matter of his extraordinary skill as a draughtsman...

3. André François
I discovered François relatively late. His name cropped up time and again when other art heroes of mine spoke of their influences. I now consider him to be the most magical and imaginative cartoonist of - at the very least - the 20th Century. Every image is shot through with a childlike wonder which is uniquely moving. Quite magnificent.

2. Quentin Blake
For me, François is a more exciting artist than Blake. I think that Blake would probably say much the same thing. But what edges him ahead is the seismic effect that Blake has had on my imagination throughout my life. Without any shadow of a doubt, the greatest children's illustrator who has ever drawn breath.

1. Ronald Searle
I feel really emotional when I talk about Searle. His work is so stunning, so alive and so truly magnificent that words alone can't do it justice. I believe that Searle - who will be remembered primarily for St. Trinian's but that's just scratching the surface of his huge output and range - is by a head-and-shoulders the finest visual artist the world has produced in the last 100 years. Yes, really. Like François and Blake, what makes the magic for me is the simple fact that every single piece, every single constituent line of one of Searle's drawings can provoke an emotional reaction, which is normally to make you laugh. How many other artists can boast that?

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