Somersaulting with dopey glee, a group of kangaroos thump around, lapping up wine from gravity defiant glasses. Inebriated marsupials with bottles in their pouches? Such a zany scene is characteristic of the work of beloved graphic artist and designer Ronald Searle (British, active France, 1920-2011). His wry illustrations, ranging from caricature to cartoon and inspired by an uncanny mélange politics, lived experience, societal observations, and imagination carry forward the tradition of British caricature into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
This drawing is one of twenty-two works by Searle in the Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Department at Cooper Hewitt. It was originally penned to be the illustration for the month of August in a 1983 promotional calendar, published by Clos Du Vale Wine Company, Limited and Taltarni Vineyards. A wine lover and a long-time resident of France, Searle’s illustrations for the wine companies also appeared in one of his tongue-in-cheek books of cartoons, Something in the Cellar, Ronald Searle’s Wonderful World of Wine. In these wine-soaked drawings, Searle aims his wit at all parties-from vintners to sommeliers and regular drinkers too-not to mention, of course, the geographic and socio-cultural customs that elevate the victual to its godly status.
Searle’s inimitable penmanship, paired with droll captions, make his work simultaneously riotous, witty and absurd. Writer and fellow cartoonist Martin Rowson wrote in his obituary of Searle, “A Searle line is a beautiful thing, stuttering, swirling, smooth and jagged, thick and thin and then spattering into blots like champagne bubbles-and that’s all one line, the pen never leaving the paper.” These lines come together to create strangely compelling characters, with their signature beady eyes askew. The results, here, are intoxicated, bottom-heavy kangaroos- defying zoology and somehow propriety, too. The caption, not shown on this process drawing, helps tie the humor together: “Kangarouge: Produce of Australia.” For good measure Searle even adds a pun, in parentheses: “Jumping for Joy Downunder.” For countries, advertisers and wine enthusiasts of all species, Searle has had the last drop.
This drawing can be seen in the exhibition, The Virtue in Vice, on view through March 25th, 2018.
 Martin Rowson, “Ronald Searle RDI (1920-2011),” RSA Journal 139 no. 5416 (March 1991): 25.
Caroline O’Connell is the Collections Assistant in the Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.