Review of Paul Hogarth’s ‘Graham Greene Country’…
Graham Greene painted a vivid picture of the settings of his novels, his travels took him across the globe and wherever he went he captured the essence of the country, its people, politics and climate. It is therefore appropriate that his travels were illustrated by an artist who could match Greene’s footprint, Paul Hogarth was that artist.
Like Greene, Hogarth had travelled extensively for journalistic as well as artistic purposes, he painted scenes from Poland, Russia, China, America, Romania and Bulgaria at the height of the Cold War, he painted with an honest eye capturing the beauty as well as the industrialisation of countries beyond the reach of imposed borders.
In his introduction to the book Hogarth wrote: “Looking back on my travels, I realise that what initially attracted me towards Graham Greene’s writing was his acute awareness of social contexts; used almost like theatrical backdrops for his narratives. It was a quality that appealed to my own conscience as well as my pencil”
The book takes in some twenty countries and fifty cities, Hogarth travelled across Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe and whilst the book is set out in chronological order Hogarth had to plan his travels according to weather and the current political situation of that particular time. In his autobiography Drawing on Life, Hogarth describes the help of an Argentinian diplomat over a candle-lit dinner to help him secure permission to enter Argentina three years after the Falklands conflict when the two countries were still officially at war.
The book begins with The Man Within (1929) and as with each book covered, Hogarth gives a synopsis of the book along with passages from the book and comments from Greene on Hogarth’s observations. There are also diary extracts from Hogarth which give a fascinating insight into his journey and the realities of sitting and painting on location.
This painting captures the magnificence of the Zaire River at Mbandaka, Hogarth travelled there to paint scenes from A Burnt Out Case (1961) At that time photography and drawing was strictly forbidden in Zaire but the missionary priest in charge of the leper colony at Iyonda managed to get permission for Hogarth on the back of Greene’s reputation and standing in the country.
Hogarth drew both landscapes and people and often combined the two which lead to some describing him rather simplistically as an illustrator. He was more than that, I find the addition of a person to his landscapes and architectural pieces adds depth and a sense of realism. People inhabit landscapes and buildings after all.
One of Greene’s greatest settings was of course Vietnam for the remarkable The Quiet American (1955) Hogarth chose to stay at the Independence Hotel (formerly The Caravelle, and now renamed as so?) the popular meeting point for journalists during the war. This painting is of Place Garnier, now known as Lam Son Square in Saigon which moved Greene to comment on the amount of cyclists which tear through the city every day. Reading Hogarth’s diary it is clear that 1980s Vietnam does not sit well with him and he is glad to leave. There is however, an interesting painting of Dakow Bridge, the place where Pyle’s body is found. Greene wrote in his notes that he had never seen the place which Hogarth painted of the actual scene “for it would have been suicide in those days to cross the bridge into that part of Saigon”
In total, Hogarth covers twenty four of Greene’s books, if you love the Penguin paperback editions which Hogarth painted the covers for then this book is an absolute must have. There was a great deal of mutual admiration, it is clear from the book that Greene was moved by the memories which Hogarth gave him through his remarkable paintings. Would such an undertaking happen today? One doubts it. If you prefer the sketch or the paint brush to the high-def photograph then you could do worse than immerse yourself in Hogarth’s paintings and Greene’s world.
Graham Greene Country by Paul Hogarth
Printed by Pavilion/Michael Joseph 1986
Categories: The Reading Room