If you’re a Shoreditch regular, you’ll recognise John Dolan and his dog George. They’re out on the streets of London every day, John drawing, George keeping him company and watching the world go by. John’s been chronicling the changing cityscape of this area in his sketchpad for three years now and is a Londoner through and through.
As the Hackney Citizen points out, John’s had a bit of a rough past, in and out of Pentonville Prison over the years for petty crime and often homeless. His drawings have since been sold for as much as £15,000. He has recently collaborated with some of the biggest names in street art to produce a series of work for an exhibition at the Howard Griffin Gallery next month.
Below he tells us a bit about some of the artists he’s been working with, shares a story about George the dog and leaves us with a thought to carry through the rest of the day.
LLO: Start by telling us a bit about yourself, your background and your interests.
JD: My name is John Dolan. I was born in Hackney Hospital on June 8th 1971. I grew up in Islington. I love art. I’m a big fan of Gilbert and George, Jackson Pollock, Robert Crumb, and I love Stik’s work. I’m a big music fan; I love Springsteen. I’m a big boxing fan. I’m a Gemini and I’m 42 years of age.
LLO: For the past few years, you’ve been hanging out around Shoreditch drawing this area of London. What do you hope to communicate through your work?
JD: Basically what I want to communicate through my work is London. I like the grimy look of London (in parts) and especially the street art you have in London, which is on the grimy parts.
LLO: You’ve collaborated with some of the best street artists around for your exhibition at the Howard Griffin Gallery. Who are they? Who have you most enjoyed working with on this project? Why?
JD: For the collaborations I’ve done I’ve worked with more than 30 artists. ROA was the first one. Thierry Noir, RUN, Stik, Zomby, MadC (the best lady graffiti artist), BRK, Dscreet, Malarky; there’s loads to name. The best one for me, the most technical artist out of the lot of them is probably ROA, who I admire and respect hugely.
LLO: Why should we stop in to check out your exhibition?
JD: Well some of the best street artists in the world have checked me out and got on board with this project. Surely that answers your question! The theme is Shoreditch, the regeneration of the city and the incredible street art that’s going on around here. There’s around 50 of my street pieces, of George and the buildings on Shoreditch High Street, and about 25 of the big pieces with collaborations by the street artists. Then there’s about 4 or 5 big originals of different buildings on the street and around the area.
LLO: Tell us a bit about your drawing technique.
JD: I use pilot pen, blind drawing. I take the pen straight to the paper; I rarely use pencil. I like the grimy looking and old buildings. I spend up to six weeks drawing the big pieces, and the small building drawings that I sell on the High Street take up to two hours.
LLO: We want to know more about George. How long have you had him? What’s his personality like? Tell us a little story about something he did that was memorable.
JD: I was living in temporary accommodation in the Tower Hill area, and at Christmas I always put homeless people up because of the cold weather conditions and because Christmas is a really depressing time of the year for them guys. I was putting up a couple one particular year and they already had a dog. These two guys were beggars, and whilst they were out on the street some mad Scotsman sold them George for the price of a strong can of lager. They then came to my house with George. In the meantime they were offered a place in a hostel. They couldn’t take two dogs, so they offered me George, who I took on.
I’ve had George for six years. I’ve trained him to the max. I have arthritis in my ankle and in the winter I’m on crutches and I can’t walk. George is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, he’s got that fighting instinct and he can be a bit of a little git at times. So I’ve trained him to the extent that he listens to every command and obeys every word. I sit on Shoreditch High Street Friday and Saturday nights when people have got drink inside them. They can be quite abusive, and when people that are quite abusive come walking towards me I’ve only got to raise my hand and point towards them and George will start to bark at them. I don’t even have to give him a command, I just point in their direction and he’ll start to bark. That generally keeps the nutters away from me and the people that have had too much to drink.
George’s personality, well he’s a very wise dog; he’s got great wisdom in his eyes. He looks like he’s been around for longer than he actually has. Me and George are meant to be together, I can’t explain it but its kind of destiny that has brought us together. The dog has brought me incredibly good luck. He’s become a part of Shoreditch, everyone knows him. They know his name before they know my name. George is engrained on Shoreditch just as much as I am. George has become a legend in the past few years since I’ve been around Shoreditch. I love him to bits, and he’s my universe. What more can I say?
LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what changes have you seen in the city in general over the years?
JD: I’ve lived in London all my life. I grew up in Islington and saw the changes there. Years ago, Shoreditch used to have a very big Bangladeshi community. They’re moving out now as the area regenerates itself and becomes very middle class. I’m very working class, but the middle classes are bringing a great vibe to the area. It’s great round Shoreditch now, as opposed to twenty years ago.
LLO: When you think of Shoreditch, what’s the first thing that comes to mind in each of the following categories:
Sight: The beauty of the people, the fashion, the street art and the street life.
Smell: The different restaurants with their excellent smells of food beaming out of them.
Taste: I like Dishoom and the Argentinian steak sandwiches across the road.
Texture: The texture for me is my big fat arse sat up on the hard concrete pavement of Shoreditch High Street.
Sound: The music wafting out of the clubs and the laughter and happiness of people enjoying their nights out.
LLO: Tell us about one or two random but memorable interactions you’ve had while working on your drawings.
JD: There are two amazing things that happened to me on the street. One was being published in Shoreditch Unbound alongside Tracy Emin and Gilbert and George, the first two months of me sitting on Shoreditch High Street. I was sat there drawing one Saturday afternoon when two guys approached me and commissioned me for the book.
The other is when the rock band Heavens Basement bought a piece and took it onto Lauren Laverne’s Radio 1 show. I got a big shout out.
LLO: If you could leave Londoners with one thought to carry through the rest of the day, what would it be?
JD: Treat others how you expect to be treated yourselves, bastards!
You can see John’s work at the Howard Griffin Gallery from 19-26 September (10am-6pm), 189-190 Shoreditch High Street E1 6HU.