I spent all of last year drawing London-looking, exploring, finding new bits and revisiting, considering, reassessing and re-evaluating familiar places I thought I knew well. Wandering and drawing made me notice and think afresh about the city I’ve lived in for 60 years. Its vivid contrasts of past imperial splendours, and present decline and uncertainty; the disconnect between beautiful Whitehall with its seductive reminders of imperial and colonial power-nostalgia for which still seems to mesmerise our policymakers-and the city’s unseemly extremes of spectacular wealth and unemployment and poverty. Yet amid all these I enjoyed London’s visual and often stimulating muddle, its vivid ethnic mixes, the tolerance and courtesy of most people.
Some subjects I particularly enjoyed drawing: the Main Stadium in the Olympic Park, the most extensive building site in East London, with the unresolved look of all such places; John Nash’s Park Crescent, an elegantly anglicised adaptation of a Palladian idiom, here bent round into two simple quadrants; St Paul’s, Wren’s confident and splendid baroque masterpiece, glorifying God and the power of the City alike, with the idealistic but untidy protesters’ tents at its feet; and the Thames, London’s most timeless asset, seen from Penguin’s offices in the Strand, the city’s skies and distant skyscrapers beyond the teeming river traffic.
Looking at all these, and drawing and thinking about them, was an intense and concentrated experience.
“London, You’re Beautiful: An Artist’s Year” by David Gentleman is published by Penguin, £20