Paul Hogarth’s Cold War Reports for The Norwich Gallery….
Fans of Graham Greene and his original Penguin paperback editions will doubtless be aware of the artist behind the wonderful cover illustrations. Paul Hogarth (1917-2001) designed many of the Greene orange and white cover paperbacks as well as enjoying a career as a travel journalist in his own right. In Cold War Reports 1947-1967 The Norwich Gallery and the Norfolk Institute of Art and Design put into book format their exhibition of Hogarth’s work along with a wonderful essay on the artist by none other than the late and very great John Berger.
Published in 1989 it features intriguing sketches and short essays by Hogarth from his travels throughout the Cold War period including; Post-War Britain, Yugoslavia (1947) Spain (1949) Greece (1952) Spain (1949) Poland (1953) Czechoslovakia (1953) China (1954) Rhodesia (1956) Poland (1956) Russia (1957) and West Berlin (1981) as well as a bibliography of Hogarth’s work.
John Berger’s introduction comes from an edited essay written between 1952 and 1953 and published in Czech in 1955. It was one of his first essays whilst working at the Chelsea School of Art and he sums up the book and the artist with his usual sense of brilliance; “A glance at the plates in this book will show how successful he has been in this way, and how the impact of his drawings is unique and quite different from that of the photograph or news-film. The latter present us with the facts: Hogarth presents us with the conscience of a witness”
The accompanying text to Hogarth’s drawings remind the reader of the realities faced by Europe at the end of the Second World War, whilst visiting Poland with two other artists in 1953 he observed: “In Warsaw, the enormity of the devastation stunned us. Eighty per cent of the Polish capital had been destroyed. The Warsaw ghetto was a vast wilderness of rubble as far as the eye could see. The Old Town’s once exquisite churches, grandiose palaces, indeed every building of distinction, lay in ruins”
In Poland he drew colliers whom he described as working under intolerable conditions, covered in dirt and dust. It was Hogarth’s second visit and he described the Sovietisation of the country with huge statues of Stalin, Soviet-style tower blocks and cities renamed under the red flag such as Katowice which became Stalingorod. This level of destruction in Poland is mirrored in his findings of Spain: “Here we see inside Franco’s Spain where surely we could not help but see grim evidence of an oppressive regime. In reality, Spain presented the same aftermath of war I had found in Poland; shattered towns and cities: banks and public buildings guarded by armed squads of police; a populace anxious to talk of shortages, the high cost of living, and much else, but afraid to do so”
Hogarth’s style is unmistakable, he draws both caricatures and landscapes with the same freestyle pencil or pen movements, they are obviously drawings of a bygone era but it is the style of the drawing itself which makes the reader all the more nostalgic. Imagine seeing his reportage drawings in the newspaper during the Cold War? That window into another world that must have seemed so distant for so many in the United Kingdom who were slowly emerging from the bleak fog of World War Two. Consider also, the often trying circumstances under which he must have had to work, not for him the comfort of a long range telephoto lens. He had to engage with the subject, sit, watch and listen. How often do we, upon looking at an image question the circumstance in which it was captured?
Hogarth’s artistic reportage is quite special, his accompanying essays are short on sentiment, he recorded countries and peoples as he saw them and reminds us all of the misery which war and undemocratic governments smother the innocent with.
Categories: The Reading Room