WEST END PROFILE: Artist Raul Guerrero is drawn to sleazy Soho

Friday, 14th January 2011

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Published: 14 January 2011
by JOSH LOEB

A STRIPPER gazes melancholically through the window of a club. A woman with heaving bosoms lingers outside a lingerie shop. A wizened old chap wearing a flat cap props up the bar and slurps from a glass of Chardonnay.

These are among the images from Raul Guerrero’s Soho sketchbook, which are on show in the Reading Room Gallery in Frith Street, just a stone’s throw from the artist’s favourite sketching spots. 

Denizens of the area might recognise some of the faces in the pictures. 

On his daytime and twilight wanderings through the West End, Guerrero, 33, likes to people watch, and when he spies a “character” – an oddball, an eccentric or just someone with an interesting face – he politely asks if he can sketch them.    

“This is what Soho is all about,” he says, surveying the 25 pictures that make up the exhibition. 

“Sit in Old Compton Street and you will see people – even homeless people – with style. 

“I could do 100 of these paintings. As it is an arty area, people are more inclined to say yes when you ask to draw them. You find that attitude in Camden Town, too. 

“The drawing itself is difficult as you can’t make mistakes – I draw directly in ink – but you get so much more information when you are in the scene. The things the wind does with the hair – you get that sort of thing live, which you can’t get from photographs. ” 

It takes Guerrero “a maximum of half an hour” to sketch a person (he works as quickly as possible so as not to delay his subjects too much). He waits until he gets home before embarking on the line work and toning. 

“I keep a memory of where the dark and light should be,” he says. He doesn’t work from photographs because he likes “the idea of doing it how someone in the 19th century would do it”.

Guerrero’s work has been praised for its accessibility and he is keen on bringing art to the masses. Last year he created a piece of guerilla art on hoardings. It depicted a Victorian street urchin slumped against a doorway – and he says he would love to do more graffiti art in future.  

Originally from Spain, he has lived in London for five years and is smitten with the “colourful and a bit seedy” streets of the West End and their history.

“Nowadays, Soho is relatively mainstream,” he says, “but in the 1940s and the 50s it meant a lot to people. It was the only place where you could get Italian food, it was the only place where you could get a proper cappuccino – and there was also the freedom. If you were inclined in certain ways you would come here. The rock ’n’ roll craze started here. I was interested to find that some places from those times still remain, like the French House and the Coach and Horses.” 

Guerrero cites as influences German Expressionism and the work of Lucian Freud. 

He says: “I relate to that kind of art because the people look like people tend to look when they are absorbed in themselves – like how people on the tube tend to look.”

Guerrero’s Soho Sketchbook show runs until January 28 at the Reading Room Gallery,
65 Frith 
Street, Soho.

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