George Butler "Books that changed my life"

Jessica Edwards

George Butler is an award-winning artist specialising in current affairs. His book Drawn Across Borders records front line drawings in war zones and refugee camps (Walker Studio, £15)

To the Kwai and Back by Ronald Searle  

In 1941, the artist Ronald Searle became a prisoner-of-war in Singapore. Throughout his captivity in the infamous Japanese camp, despite the risk, Searle made drawings, determined to record his experiences. On the most basic level, it’s an extraordinary record of the lives and deaths of his fellow prisoners and their guards. He also hid over 400 drawings during his time in the camp under the beds of men with cholera so the guards wouldn’t find them. It’s the most powerful visual record of any event that I have ever seen and I have always strived to recreate the sentiment, the fluidity and the braveness of his work. 

 

The Seabird’s Cry: The Lives and Loves of Puffins, Gannets and Other Ocean Voyagers by Adam Nicolson

There is a paragraph near the beginning of this book that made me stop in my tracks when I first read it. Adam Nicholson considers the German biologist Jakob von Uexküll’s concept about different species called Umwelt, which I think is untranslatable into English, but acknowledges that no single species could ever view the world through the eyes of another. In this case, the great migratory birds who set out across vast seas. It made me consider whether, realistically, I could ever empathise with other species on this earth enough to share their point of view through drawings. I suspect not, but I am going to keep trying.

 

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne illustrated by EH Shepard

As a child, I never really read without drawings to break the text up. The drawings by EH Shepard in Winnie the Pooh made those stories come alive for me. My memory is always heavily linked to visual prompts and so these books have stayed with me. 

It wasn’t until much later that I realised drawing and writing could be more than the sum of their two parts. Even later when I started to read longer books as a boy, it was books with illustrations that drew me in like the illustrations by Ralph Steadman for Animal Farm.

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