A John Ryan retrospective

Guests at the Preview, with Priscilla Ryan in red jersey

Rye Art Gallery has mounted a retrospective exhibition of John Ryan’s work. Famous as the author and illustrator of the Captain Pugwash series of books and TV films, John Ryan also produced  animated film artworks and cartoons that enthralled adults and children of several generations.

At an exhibition preview at the Rye Art Gallery on Monday November 20, Priscilla, John’s wife, recounted how he had once been offered the post of Senior Art Master at Harrow Public School. Over a bottle of wine they had together decided to reject the offer, much to the consternation of Priscilla’s parents: “But it means security for life,” they urged. “Yes, but we do not want such security” was the young couple’s reply.

Pirates at rest

Curated by Isabel Ryan, Priscilla’s daughter, the first floor gallery was filled with over half a century of John Ryan’s creative output. Images of well-loved childhood characters such as Captain Pugwash and Harris Tweed (of the Eagle magazine, some will remember) hung side by side with cartoons from the Catholic Herald.

A scene from the television film, with character animation tabs below.

The exhibition shows John as his modest and whimsical self, a wonderful story-teller with a sense of humour heightened by supreme artistic mastery, whichever medium he chose. This was demonstrated, for example, by his 1960s production for Rediffusion TV of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem: “The Hunting of the Snark”. This was a 30 minute sequence animated characterisation as seen in the image to the right. Isabel’s partner, Nick MacRae, called this an early monster movie. The original film reels were lost, he said, possibly languishing in an unexplored attic.

Writing in 1987, John Ryan recalled: “I have certainly never considered myself as part of the mainstream of cartoon animation. I have always simply been concerned with telling my stories on TV screen by whatever means open to me. I wouldn’t claim in any way to have invented ‘cut-out’ animation . . .   but I have taken it further than anyone else as a film technique.”

The exhibition runs till January 14.






Photos: Kenneth Bird

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird .

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  1. So say I, Andrew. So much to see! Though we’ve got or given a number of the books the exhibition made me realise how much of the Ryan era we’d missed by living in other countries and how many more books he’d produced than I knew of. Thanks to Ken Bird for his RyeNews write-up. Will now Google for The Hunting of the Snark to refresh my memory on that one.


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