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Book of the week: ‘London, You’re Beautiful’

Posted at 11:15 am, May 13, 2012 in Arts & Entertainment, Photos of London

London, You're BeautifulWhile it produces and attracts a lot of artists, London is not a city that lends itself to visual depiction. It’s sprawling and amorphous. It’s full of ugly buildings stuck up without reference to their surroundings. This aesthetic incoherence suits writers looking for a corollary to tales of fractured lives but can stymie those who try to boss it around in paint. From Canaletto to Sickert, painters have brought their own agendas to the city, and seen what they wanted to see here. David Gentleman is a rare example, then, of an artist who seems able, indeed keen, to take London at face value. Gentleman is now 82, yet, even this late in his career, cannot resist the capital. His latest collection – rather toe-curlingly titled and patently not true, even on its own evidence – is an ‘artist’s year’ of his characteristic pen-and-wash, watercolour and felt-tip drawings. These are beautiful: deft and economical, they perfectly reflect the amount of editing needed to make sense of a cityscape. No one can touch Gentleman when it comes to drawing 1930s ribbon developments, 24-hour shops and ‘self-assertively hideous’ office towers. Oh yes, he’s also a great, and greatly overlooked, writer. This book is lighter on text than his landmark 1980s albums ‘David Gentleman’s Britain’ and ‘London’, but still has enough caustic discrimination to remind you that he, as a Londoner himself, is also appalled and inspired by the fabric of this place. There are nods to last summer’s riots, the demolition of the Heygate Estate and the rise of the Olympic Park: this is a work profoundly concerned with balance, both within the individual sketches and the greater landscape of which they are parts. ‘Many of my drawings are of things seen directly and fairly,’ writes Gentleman, and while many of them inevitably aren’t, there are few artists or writers who have a more democratic appreciation of this vast, plural and frustrating city. Chris Waywell

‘London, You’re Beautiful’ is published by Penguin, £20

London, You're Beautiful London, You're Beautiful

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