After a lifetime drawing London, the watercolorist David Gentleman set out to discover if it’s possible to look afresh at the place where you live. He spent a year immersing himself in the metropolis, capturing the teeming crowds and the ever-shifting light of its changeable skies. Here he introduces a selection of images from throughout the year, and tells how his familiar world was transformed.
Evening, Camden Town
I spent all of last year drawing London, a place I’d lived in for over 60 years and felt I already knew perfectly well. That turned out to be wrong
It’s changing fast, as its remaining empty spaces get built on and its mushrooming skyline bristles with new landmarks that dwarf everything else
The Thames from 80 Strand
To look at the cranes you wouldn’t think there was a recession on
I enjoy London’s variety, its contrasts of old and new, grand and ordinary – of Georgian, Victorian, Gothic Revival and the shiny glass and steel tower blocks of the City and Canary Wharf
I love the Thames, for the space and openness it provides in a crowded city, and the way it gives one a chance to look across the water and survey the tightly-packed City from a safe distance
I enjoyed drawing its profusion of green spaces – heath, parks, gardens, squares – and the gleam and peace of its canals. Exploring some unknown parts revealed surprises and delights in Wandsworth, Deptford, Walworth and distant Rainham Marshes
I’m less keen on the city’s paranoid security and surveillance, its numerous war memorials, its growing abundance of tourist attractions and pseudo-heritage, its traffic, expensiveness and increasing unfairness, and the constant sense that Londoners are being squeezed out as the better bits are snapped up by the unimaginably rich
Whitechapel Road market
But these drawbacks are offset by many virtues: the presence of the ordinary Londoners, polite, cosmopolitan and tolerant; the city’s grandeur and its cheeky street markets; the feeling of energy and vitality that pervades it
Drawing its people, places and things made me look hard, notice, understand and remember them. It was a packed and fascinating experience
The new collection brings to life the city he’s lived in for 60 years, with 400 pages of London loveliness. Here’s a short interview with the author to whet your appetite.