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I was in London for a few days seeing clients, dropping off paintings and I decided to extend my trip to squeeze in a spot of Christmas shopping, and get a painting done.
The winter weather was surely going to close in at some point so I had to be quick. I needed to choose a spot near to where I was going to shop later on.
I arrived at Piccadilly Circus, and after a bit of thought, I rather liked the idea of Christmas shoppers spilling in and out of the Tube station exit.
There are so many exits at this station that I swear in 20 odd years I have never used the same one twice, it is especially confusing coming out of the station, and even more so after and few glasses of Christmas cheer.
While braving the traffic, I checked out each exit for suitability. Eventually I happened upon the one at the bottom of Regent Street. It had a lovely arc to it and I could see the fountain in the background. It also had the added advantage of a couple of large electricity junction boxes I could prop my drawing book on while I worked. This would be may chosen drawing spot. I set to work with a few croissants stuffed in my pockets to keep me going.
About Piccadilly Circus
This rather odd name dates back to 1612, when a man called Robert Baker, made huge amounts of cash by selling rather fancy, fashionable collars then known as ‘Piccadils’. With the proceeds from his canny entrepreneurship, he built himself a mansion on this site. Good old Bob.
Now, this part of town was pretty up market even then, and as he made his money out of ‘trade’ rather than being landed gentry, Robert was naturally envied, and derided for this class crime.
So in reprisal, the locals whispered behind their hands and spitefully referred to his mansion as Picadil Hall. Oh how they laughed! And who were those whisperers? Well, no one knows as their names have been totally lost in time. Robert has been remembered, however, the name stuck, and today Piccadilly Circus is known throughout the world as a fine place to visit. Karma.
The Fountain in Piccadilly Circus
The official name of the fountain at the centre of the circus is ‘The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain’ after the kindly Victorian philanthropist Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. A lovely man by all accounts. It was financed by public subscription, which is clearly testament to his charitable works.
It was designed by Alfred Gilbert and originally you could drink from their fountain, but that idea was abandoned rather quickly after all the cups were stolen. That’s London for you.
Lastly, the statue on the top is known as Eros, the God of sexual love. It is not Eros, however, but his brother Anteros, the God of selfless and mature love. That said, as Piccadilly Circus has been a bit of a hot spot for prostitution for well over 150 years, I would say Eros was more the fitting deity to watch over the passing masses.
Painting and drawing in Piccadilly Circus
I normally do a quick drawing first to get my eye in on composition, so I pulled a few ideas together to get in the key shapes. Once I was happy with one, I got rolling on the final piece. I knew at this stage that I would not be able to finish totally on the spot. The winter days are pretty short in London so the light would go early. Also it was cold too. I can work in fairly cold conditions as my Irish blood carries its own anti-freeze. That said, once I begin to shake and shiver it’s impossible to work. I’m not a pointillist.
As it’s Christmas, I wanted to get in plenty of bag carrying going on. I also wanted to get the wrapping around the fountain in. It is always wrapped up at Christmas because drunken Londoners climb in it, some also climb up it and bend dear old Anteros’ bow. That’s London for you….AGAIN!
When working on the street, you notice things that you simply can’t notice in a studio. It was the stress of Christmas shopping. Some people did not look happy at all. They were uptight, lost and wondering where the hell to go next. As I am a reportage artist, I decided to subtly put this in, it’s what I do. A slight treadmill feeling in the back ground. That is what shopping at Christmas can be like, and let’s not deny it.
I stayed long enough to finish the drawing and add a bit of colour too, though as I suspected, the cold got me in the end. My fingers were about to snap off unless I had a tea soon.
I packed up and wandered up Piccadilly. I had shopping to do myself now, though I made sure I enjoyed the lights and drank in a bit of Christmas spirit along with my tea and cake. We are here for a good time, not a long time.
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