The other day, I had a few hours to spare in Shanghai and decided to spend them browsing the TinTin and Hergé exhibition at the Power Station museum. The Power Station of Art is a contemporary art space housed in a former power station, it’s China's first state-run contemporary art museum and reminded me of the TATE Modern in London.
For those of you who might not know, the TinTin series is much admired for its clean, expressive drawings and its well researched plots that draw upon the themes of politics, history and technology, offset by moments of comedy. The books have a special place in my heart. As a kid growing up in Africa with no TV or radio, I devoured them, they were real to me, real adventures, and they taught me a lot visually about the world outside Africa, even though much of the contents reflected earlier times before mine. The settings within Tintin were exciting, mixing both real and fictional lands into the stories. In King Ottokar's Sceptre, Hergé created two fictional countries, Syldavia and Borduria, and invites the reader to tour them in text through the insertion of a travel brochure into the storyline. Other fictional lands include Khemed on the Arabian Peninsula and San Theodoros, São Rico, and Nuevo Rico in South America, as well as the kingdom of Gaipajama in India. Apart from these fictitious locations, Tintin also visits real places such as Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union, Belgian Congo, Peru, India, Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, Nepal, Tibet, and China. Other actual locales used were the Sahara Desert, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Moon. All these locations of course used to add to my wanderlust.
I discovered a lot about Hergé’s creative process at the exhibition, he used reference photos along with a soundly built storyline that was researched well, so no wonder my understanding of the world grew from reading though those colourful pages as a kid. Hergé worked precisely and methodically and to make the story fit into the standard 62-page book format with the help of his collaborators - it was a long and arduous process. Painstaking.
The little regard for comics affected Hergé at the time of their creation, despite the internationally acclaimed work sparking much interest, but he struggled to have it seriously recognized as real art, but only as minor art. He dabbled in painting in the early 1960s and was fascinated by the art of his time, the most modern of all.
The art lover in him was always present. He went to the Carrefour gallery practically every day at lunch to have an aperitif, meet people, talk and debate. He would question, listen, compare which is how he gradually became versed with the avant garde movements and personally met many artists. He couldn’t live without being surrounded by quality objects and images.
In fact, Hergé developed a passion for modern art and even tried his hand at it on weekends. But he decided not to take his hobby further, because "I have but one life…and I must choose: painting or Tintin, it can't be both!"
The exhibition displays a number of modern paintings by Hergé for the first time to the public, along with his personal collection by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Pierre Raynaud and others.
It was a great day; great to have spent the time around an old friend. Tintin’s courage and goodness still affect and encourage me to this day.