The ‘Drawing London’ Group in Spitalfields
One afternoon last Winter, as I was walking through the lobby of the Barbican library to return my books, a beautiful drawing caught my eye among the works exhibited there. It was a fine architectural drawing, with precise spidery lines and subtle watercolour tints, by the wonderfully named Shelby Dawbarn and the exhibition was organised by the ‘Drawing London’ Group.
I wrote a compliment in their comments book and, to my surprise, within days I received an invitation to the opening party where I had the honour of meeting the talented Shelby Dawbarn. She explained that, although she had once studied architecture and attended Liverpool College of Art, her talent in drawing had only come to fruition recently, after a long gap in which she had a family and a career. It was inspiring to meet someone who had recently achieved the fulfilment of a gift that had lain dormant for years – discovering so much pleasure in drawing today.
Each month, the ‘Drawing London’ Group, which has around fifteen members, meets in a different part of the city and spends a day drawing on the streets. Once I was introduced to Bill Aldridge and Marion Wilcocks who (with Shelby) founded the group spontaneously in 2003 when they met on a course at the Prince’s Drawing School, I took the opportunity to invite them over to Spitalfields and last week it was my pleasure to welcome them to the neighbourhood.
When I arrived in the morning to greet them at St John, Nicky Sherrott was already hungrily tucking in to a bacon sandwich as sustenance for a serious day’s drawing and I was captivated at once by the group’s collective anticipation at the potential which lay ahead. Even though these were Londoners and it was merely one day’s drawing, there was the feeling of an expedition. On these occasions, the members of this gentle and freewheeling drawing group leave their usual lives at home and set out, enjoying the camaraderie of the freshly sharpened pencil, to look at life afresh. It is a small adventure and an intensely civilised one. Last Friday, clutching their fishing stools and drawing boards, they spread out around the Spitalfields Market and the surrounding streets, and set to work.
When I returned later, the members were all shyly clutching their artworks, but I managed to persuade them to step out from the lunch queue and onto the steps of Christ Church, where Spitalfields Life contributing photographer Jeremy Freedman took their portraits with their drawings, which you can see below.
Holding up her sketchbook in the wind with her curls blowing everywhere, the charming Wendy Winfield was especially pleased to be back in Spitalfields, and fascinated by all the changes, because she first came here while she was at art school in London between 1947-53, when this was the Jewish neighbourhood. “In those days, you left home to go to art school at sixteen,” she confided, “it was very exciting!” Such was her passionate curiousity that Jeremy offered to take Wendy inside the Sandys Row Synagogue, one of the last fragments of Jewish Spitalfields.
“I love London, my mother was a Londoner. She thought London was the only place in the world and she instilled it in me. So I am grateful for the chance to travel round London and see the parts other people don’t know,” explained Marilyn Southey modestly, a woman of natural elegance who had passed her morning drawing in the market, discovering a consensus from the other members that the elaborate cast iron roof makes it a challenging subject. Meanwhile, Nicky Sherrott, the keen-eyed retired lawyer who enjoys bacon sandwiches, confessed to me that after twenty years working in the city, she appreciated the opportunity drawing gave simply to look at things closely. For her, the finished artwork was secondary to the privilege of concentrated looking.
After lunch, I accompanied the group on the private tour of the Sandys Row Synagogue hosted by Jeremy, and it was refreshing to find myself amongst people for whom, although they had all lived plenty of life, the common factor was that they retained their sense of wonder. I could have spent the whole afternoon talking with these folk, but before long it was time for them to return to their drawings and make the most of the rest of their day in Spitalfields.
Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman