Gentleman is a painter and printmaker and this book of his depictions of the city where he has lived for almost 70 years – seven decades! – is hot off the Gutenberg to coincide with his 90th birthday on March 11 this year. Perhaps a few other Londoners have called the capital home for just as long but Gentleman also lays claim to having lived most of those 70 years on the same street. This may be a life plus or it may not, depending on viewpoint, but it is certainly notable.

His studio is at the top of an early Victorian house in Camden Town, north London, between the crowded Camden Locks and the open green spaces of (primrose-less) Primrose Hill and Regents Park. From here, the many mediums in which he has worked have included designing British postage stamps and coins, and a platform-length mural, blown up from his wood engravings, that has adorned the Northern Line platforms at Charing Cross Underground station since 1979.

The mural is shown in "My Town. An Artist's Life in London", plus marvellous book covers ("Richard III", "Plats du Jour, or Foreign Food"); posters for London Transport; wood engravings for stamps, a calendar and adverisements; and a drawing of Hyde Park Corner for The Sunday Times.

Presumably, it is from his long-time home in Camden Town that we can imagine Gentleman setting off on the many hundreds of walks he must have undertaken to explore, get to know and draw his beloved London; the unflagging flaneur.

The book assembles work from across his entire career, from his earliest sketches to watercolours painted just months ago. It is London as it was and as it has become today, ever changing, a place of curious passages, parks, markets, merchants, towpaths, trees, high-rises and heaths.

"The contrasts between how London looked then [when he first moved there as a student] and how it is now is what this book is about," he says. "... I've come to feel that noticing things, looking more intently at them and understanding them better, is key to what drawing means. It has always made places more interesting, and made me feel more alive."

Gentleman accompanies his illustrations with his thoughts on how he does what he does and on the places where he goes. Thus, talking about his studio, we find that, "While the city around it has been steadily if stealthily transforming, my studio and working life have hardly changed since 1970, when we moved across the crescent in Camden Town to a terrace house with a well-lit and undisturbed top floor. Each morning after breakfast my commute is simply up four flights of stairs, to a studio where I can draw from the windows or finish work begun elsewhere, think, work ideas out, reflect, and decide what to do next. When we're away from home, this is the room I most miss."

There is something gentle and warming about Gentleman's artwork, particularly when it shows quiet, everyday life in calm areas. Looking at the likes of the "Cow parsley under clump of trees near lake, 2018", or the "Boating Lake near London Central Mosque, 2018", or "The southern edge of Kenwood, 1984", we get a similar feeling to being back in Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows", with Water Rat, Mole, Badger and the rascally Toad as depicted by the famed illustrations of E.H. Shepherd. "Arlington House" (2017) or "Kenwood House from across the lake" (2019) could almost be Toad Hall seen through the bare branches of the Wild Wood.

Still Gentleman does cheat a bit, as he records here: "Chalcot Crescent [in Primrose Hill] must have been planned to fit as many dwellings as possible into a limited space. It's the only S-shaped crescent I know, swirling first to left and then to right. The curves are complicated, beautiful and intriguing. It's difficult to draw them accurately, but drawing needn't always be accurate. I've removed the parked cars, which in reality only happens when the place is being re-tarmacked or filmed. Balcony railings, glazing bars, street railings, pavement kerbs and parking lines all follow and emphasize the sinuous curves."

If only we could wave a wand and remove the cars everywhere, and perhaps make some of the crowds disappear into the ether too. But thank you and happy birthday, Mr Gentleman. Nice.


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