A symphony of shapes

July 21, 1998 § Leave a comment

Primrose Hill, London | David Carr

When I was asked in 1997 to “paint London,” I did not realize the riches I would find. A Yorkshireman born and bred, I saw myself as a painter of the wilder northern scene, not the domesticated city. I set to, and after scanning the River Thames and painting the London skyline dominated by St. Paul’s, I discovered the city churches, now dwarfed by the towers of Mammon — the insurance companies, bank headquarters and office developments which predominate in the square mile known as the City of London.

These are the survivors — a few from the fire of London in 1666, but most from the ravages of Victorian commercial development and finally the catastrophe of the Blitz in World War II. There were 79 churches in 1700, 39 today — all unique.

The narrow city streets gave the architects — Sir Christopher Wren first among them — no vistas to work with. All of Wren’s invention is in the spires and towers — no two are the same, a veritable symphony of shapes. Wren had a vision of a London skyline of spires and steeples in harmony with the dome and towers of St. Paul’s. It is hardly possible to see this architectural tour de force today, but it is this that has inspired me. Turn a corner and one will still surprise you — caught in a shaft of sunlight, silhouetted against an office block or against a rare patch of sky.

I paint on site, usually standing in the street. Frequently I am unnoticed as the hectic world of business rushes by, but the other day in Fleet Street a passerby wished me well — he was from Texas — and a newspaper vendor lent me his stool.

These small paintings are a continuing record of my surprise encounter with the 17th century as we enter the 21st.

— DAVID CARR

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