Drawn from the capital
My TownBy David Gentleman. Particular Books, £25
London can be a hard city to love, but David Gentleman always finds good reasons, which are lovingly drawn in My Town (Particular Books, £25). For seven decades, Gentleman has made drawings of the people, animals, parks, streetscapes and skylines of the United Kingdom’s capital. His observations are both affectionate and critical: in his introduction to a chapter about ‘Markets’ he writes that ‘irritating or even deplorable developments still make good subjects – you needn’t like what you draw.’
This attractive hardback, sympathetically designed by Tom Etherington, comprises three sections. The first contains general views of London; the second shows Gentleman’s studio at the top of his Camden house; and the third deals with places within easy walking distance of his home. His studio drawings have both precision and intimacy, showing the views from his windows, his tools, his comfortably seated cat and an upside-down ‘No!’ placard, one of a multitude (of his design) held high in London’s 2003 anti-war demonstrations.
Spread from My Town with Inverness Street market circa 1963 (left) and a barrow-making workshop near Covent Garden in 1972 (right)
Gentleman (see Eye no. 78, vol. 20) has an enviable range of talents in a plethora of demanding and quite different mediums: watercolour, wood engraving, auto-lithography, pen-and-ink and pencil sketches. He finds and captures surprising details within the crowded metropolis: the Richard Seifert-designed Pirate Castle; the destruction of St James’s Gardens; a helicopter landing in Regent’s Park; the water feature in Granary Square; and ‘London’s most undisturbed venue for drug-dealing’.
Illustration of Chalk Farm Road, 2007.
He is also a dispassionate observer of the city’s increasingly chaotic skyline. The contrast between drawings from the 1980s, 2000s and today may cause some readers to weep in despair, but he unflinchingly draws the ugliness of the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ alongside the beauty of St Paul’s Cathedral. His written introductions are concise and evocative, and his earliest stories are reminiscent of Ernest H. Shepard’s recollections of early life and art in Drawn from Memory.
In a long, rewarding life, Gentleman has seen many things change, evolve and stay the same, and it is our privilege to see London through his eyes.
Gentleman’s My Town is cloth-bound and wrapped with an illustrative dust jacket.
John L. Walters, editor of Eye, London
First published in Eye no. 101 vol. 26, 2021
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.