Shoreditch street artists team up with artist of the streets for "fantasy" exhibition
PUBLISHED: 21:17 16 September 2013 | UPDATED: 21:18 16 September 2013
It has been a long journey for former homeless jailbird John Dolan who found salvation with a bull terrer called George and a pencil in Shoreditch High Street.
Over 40 street artists have drawn “graffiti” over the sketches of a formerly homeless artist who draws on the streets for a unique collaboration of “fantasy street art”.
Famous international street artists like ROA, Stik and Thierry Noir have teamed up with John Dolan, who has become an iconic figure in Shoreditch since he began sketching the High Street three years ago, accompanied by his dog George.
John, 42, was in and out of prison for 20 years since he leaving school.
But nowadays his sketches can fetch as much as £3,000 and he is greeted every day by the likes of artists Gilbert and George as they walk past.
Street art curator Richard Howard Griffin picked up on John’s “great eye for detail and architecture” and has organised an exhibition to get recognition for his work and to give him “something to focus on and live for”.
John’s monochrome prints have been sent as far afield as Atlanta, Cape Town and Moscow and artists like ROA, Liqen, Thierry Noir, RUN, Dscreet, Stik, BRK, Zomby and Phlegm, Christiaan Nagel, Liqen, Pablo Delgado, CEPT, C215, and BRK have drawn on his cityscapes, creating unique pieces.
“The artists were keen to do it and a lot of them identify with John because in a sense he’s a true street artist because he’s on the streets drawing each day,” said Mr Howard Griffin.
John Dolan says it makes him feel “fantastic” to have the exhibition and he is “proud” that all the street artists like his work.
“I’ve built up a huge following through my art, I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved and where I am in life,” said John who grew up in City Road in Islington and attended the Central Foundation School. “Before I was a loser, I was just walking around living on benefits, I’m not saying people on benefits are losers but that’s how I felt personally.
“It’s not just that, I was homeless and I was in and out of prison, going away for petty crime.
“If I wasn’t in jail I was homeless. I’d try to be away for the winter and out for the summer. I did it for the best part of 20 years – deliberately – I got into a really bad rut that was hard to break.”
Eventually John’s arthritic ankle meant he “couldn’t get up to his old tricks”, so he was housed in a flat. But when his disability payments were stopped four years ago he was forced to beg.
“I was going up and asking people for spare change because I was hungry and I needed a cup of tea, but it’s not the kind of background I come from, I’m too proud to do that,” he said.
Soon after he was given Staffordshire bull terrier George by a friend who could not take him into their accommodation and his life changed.
“At the time I was on drugs. I was in a real dark pace. The next day I woke up and looked at the dog and thought, what have I done here? I can only just about look after myself. But within a month I fell in love with him and he’s been with me ever since.
“The thing is with dogs, it’s a huge responsibility, and George had a bit of a hard life himself.
“I started sitting him on the High Street in front of a cup so he looked like he’s begging. People used to see the novelty in it and they would give him some money.
“I got, not bored of it, but I wanted to do something different. I left him there with the cup and I started drawing the buildings opposite. The first two months I was sat there I got published in a book about Tracey Emin and Gilbert and George, then three months later I got published in Hedonist and six months later Griff came along,” said John who makes sure George is in all of his sketches.
John began selling his smaller sketches for £10, and at one point when he was in £385 rent arrears he went out on the streets and cleared up the debt by drawing a couple of larger images.
“The good thing about it is that all the homeless guys who sit out on the streets have taken inspiration from what I do, they’ve started to say they want to change their lives,” he said.
“When you have no prospects in life and no dreams and you are on the breadline, you don’t think things are achievable, but my life has totally changed and is changing to a degree, and basically if I can do it, anyone can do it.”
n George the Dog, John the Artist runs from September 19 to 26 at 189-190 Shoreditch High Street.