The fifteenth of February, 2011: watchful men in suits, and a lovely little book

This is from a fascinating new exhibition of paintings and drawings by James Hart Dyke. As explained here, Hart Dyke (or is it, as per the URL, Hart Davis?) spent a year in the unlikely post of Artist in Residence at MI6. Sir John Scarlett, the ‘M’ (in reality ‘C’) responsible, explained:

We brought people together from across the service and we asked them how they thought we should mark our first 100 years. And there was a feeling that, because of the secrecy of our organisation, we’ve not been able to celebrate its spirit in the way that other organisations can. They said they wanted to do something that would pass the core values of the service from one generation to another – and painting, because it’s such a flexible medium, was the way to capture that.

The Guardian has done a little gallery here (does it seem to anyone else that Hart Dyke ran short of inspiration – or just got tired of drawing watchful men in suits – part-way through his tenure?).

The above picture is of the Crisis Room at SIS. Even if the context weren’t so intriguing, I’d really like these pictures. Except possibly the one of the dog. And the one of the donut. Basically, I like all the ones that feature watchful men in suits, or at least look as though they might.

I like most of Hart Dyke’s stuff, in fact. I like artists who can handle emptiness – that is, light and sky – as Hart Dyke does in his Himalayan and Alpine paintings. And I like the virtuoso hastiness of his Afghan war sketches – as in Afghan soldier, Camp Bastion, Helmand, 2007, viewable here.

The context of these Afghan war drawings reminded me of a couple of other things. One was the war cartoons of Ronald Searle (drawn while Searle was in Singapore not as an official war artist but as a prisoner of the Japanese at Changi gaol – as detailed here). Here’s one:

Some of the cartoons are desperately bleak.

Another thing of which I was put in mind (somewhat obliquely) was a book I picked up last summer (outside a house in the Cornish village of Millbrook, where some good-hearted soul had left out a cardboard box of old books and a ‘please help yourself’ sign). It’s a ragged little book by the cartoonist Low (that is, David Low), entitled Europe Since Versailles: A History in One Hundred Cartoons with a Narrative Text (Penguin, 1940). The cartoons are mostly from the London Star and the London Evening Standard. Here’s one:

It’s a lovely little book by one of the giants of twentieth-century cartooning. I might write more about it and him when I have more time.


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