City landmarks depict story of ordinary lives

PUBLISHED: 14:42 01 August 2016 | UPDATED: 14:42 01 August 2016

Ladbroke Groovers, Notting Hill Carnival

Ladbroke Groovers, Notting Hill Carnival


A walk around Ed Gray’s exhibition, Dust and Shadows: Londonessence, will reveal some familiar sights for east Londoners.

Bar Italia, SohoBar Italia, Soho

The show at Rich Mix on Bethnal Green Road, Bethnal Green, includes pictures of local landmarks such as Whitechapel Market, York Hall, Carnaby Road and Mile End station.

Ed Gray, who was born in the capital and worked as an art teacher in Peckham for four years, is inspired by Hogarth, who documented London in the 1700s.

Like the Georgian artist, his pictures show the ordinary daily life of Londoners.

“These are real people, real moments in time, depicting the ebb and flow of city life,” he said.

Another Diamond Day, St Mary Axe, City of LondonAnother Diamond Day, St Mary Axe, City of London

Looking at his works is like taking a walk through the city. You will see street dancers in Ladbroke Grove, coffee drinkers outside Soho’s Bar Italia, and stressed businessmen hurrying by the Gherkin.

He’s even made art out of one of the most loathed parts of the day for many Londoners – navigating the train station in rush hour.

Whilst his subjects might be quite normal, if beautifully executed, his materials are extraordinary.

When the 43-year-old artist transports the city onto canvas, he often uses parts of London itself.

Ed was spending a lot of money on chalk in art supply shops when he discovered a cheaper, and much more exciting source.

He said: “I live in Rotherhithe near the river and saw this chalk on the beach and thought I might as well just pick it up and use it!”

Ed explained that chalk is made from the fossilized bodies of ancient creatures called Trilobytes, and that as his work is “a celebration of the spirit of the city,” it makes sense to “use the spirit of creatures that lived here” in it.

“I just love using something ancient to make something modern,” he said.

Chalk isn’t the only oddity he has found washed up near his home.

Ed once stumbled upon an 18th century hair-curler, and regularly finds the stems of old clay pipes – such as the ones smoked by his forebear Hogarth.

Although his work has been shown all over the world, and he has spent time painting Cape Town, Mexico, Tokyo and New York, it is the city of his birth that always draws him back.

Ed said he “absolutely loves it” and added: “London gives me so much inspiration” - although the capital doesn’t always make it easy.

Ed’s large and intricately detailed canvasses can take up to eight months to paint, so the artist often finds himself “playing catch-up” with a city that is undergoing so much redevelopment and gentrification.

“More than ever, there’s building going on all the time,” he said.

“To try to reflect that is a really big challenge.”

For example, the painting of Carnaby Road that features in the exhibition was painted in 2000, so visitors can now look back on what the area was like 16 years ago.

Whilst Ed is used to sketching fast-moving crowds, capturing a city that’s evolving so quickly through time is a different challenge.

“I try to be as truthful and real as I can so it’s hard to paint something that’s constantly changing,” he said.

He explained that while “London is a difficult, fickle, fast-moving muse”, there’s always an attraction to inspire his next work.

Ed Gray’s exhibition, Dust and Shadows: Londonessence, is on at Rich Mix until Thursday, July 28. Entry is free. Visit for more.

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