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Homeless Shoreditch artist John Dolan saved by pet dog releases book of his life

John and George's new book. John and George's new book.

Thursday, July 17, 2014
5:41 PM

The autobiography of a former homeless artist whose dog George saved him from a downward spiral of crime and alcoholism is released this week.

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John and George with the Streetcat named Bob, and James Bowen.John and George with the Streetcat named Bob, and James Bowen.

John Dolan became an iconic figure in Shoreditch – sitting on the high street every day for three years sketching architecture and bull terrier George, selling the drawings to pay his rent.

Last year, thanks to curator Richard Howard-Griffin, the 43-year-old joined forces with more than 40 famous international street artists, such as ROA, Stik and Thierry Noir, who all drew their “graffiti” over separate prints of John’s sketch of Shoreditch High Street for a sell-out show.

Not only did the show reunite him with his family after 20 years, but it led to him signing a book deal with publisher Random House.

John, who grew up in City Road, Finsbury, is pleased with the book, John and George, which tells his life story and his 20-year stints in and out of prison since leaving school before finding salvation through his dog – which he was given in exchange for the price of a strong can of lager and became his loyal companion.

George at his exhibition.George at his exhibition.

John said: “I like it, it really is a nice book. It couldn’t have been done any better, and sometimes I have to pinch myself, it’s so surreal.

“It does talk about my early life but we skim through the homelessness, prison and the crime because where we want to take it to is the point where I’m sitting on the street doing my art.

“I was all for telling how it really was. When I was in jail there were some really grim stories.

“You witnessed things on a daily basis that were terrible, but when you get stuff like that out and go back to it, it doesn’t make a good read.”

The process of sitting down with ghost writer Rachel Murphy last September was a painful one, John said.

“I was really depressed, it was like pulling teeth. It was just after the show and I was having a bad couple of months,” he said.

“I was in a transition point – I’d been sitting out on the street and selling drawings because I had to and the next minute I no longer had to.

“I was trying to adjust my mind. I used to still go out and sit out on the street because I like to do it and I do it occasionally now. People come to Shoreditch expecting to see me.

“I did miss it in a way, I felt I was missing something. I used to watch the world go by and things would happen.”

But ultimately John is glad he does not have to live that life any longer.

“It was a hard life, really hard,” he said. “I can pay my rent now, last year that was all I thought about, losing my tenancy and being kicked out.”

The book launch coincides with an exhibition of 700 drawings of George at the Howard Griffin Gallery in Shoreditch High Street, which John believes “capture his essence”.

This is the last time he will sell drawings of George, so as not to “flood the market”.

Shoreditch High Street, complete with pavement, kerbs, telephone exchanges and pelican crossings has been recreated inside the gallery, and 20 per cent of the proceeds will go to The Big Issue Foundation and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

The exhibition launched last night and runs until August 17.

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