Ed Gray Art




Londonessence: Dust and shadows

Ed Gray at Rich Mix

6-28 July

'We are but dust and shadows...' ‘Pulvis et umbra sumus’

 Horace, from The Odes


‘My paintings begin in the shadows where I stand sketching people in the streets. These drawings then shape shift onto canvas as drawings made with clouds of dusty charcoal and chalk and old London stock brick that I pick up on the Thames shore. I build up a sediment of paint to tell stories about the layers of people that I sketch in the streets and fill my sketch books with, unearthing mythology and folklore to create a rich mix. I hope that mix leads me closer to the spirit of the scenes that I see, towards the truth of my experience in this impossible task to document the soul of a city- to document Londonessence. And I hope that truth reverberates with the spirit of the people that inspire me- the people of the great unknowable microcosm that is, and always has been, London’. 

Ed Gray, Rotherhithe 2016



Detail of a sundial inscribed with the words of Horace

William Hogarth’s ‘Chairing the Member’ from The Election Series 1755

Sir John Soane’s Museum collection, Lincoln’s Inn Fields


Adoration of Thomas A Becket on the Old Kent Road 

150x120 cm, Acrylic on canvas 


YouTube link to a film about ‘Adoration of Thomas A Becket on the Old Kent Road’


The Adoration of Thomas A Becket on the Old Kent Road


‘Adoration Thomas A Becket, Old Kent Road’ Versions 1-4 and sketches


This is a painting about journeys- violent cuts, escape, reflections, transcendence and the need to be healed. Many pilgrims have trodden the ancient Roman road from Kent to reach the city. Many travellers stories must lie buried here even though the footprints have long been trodden down into the London clay. For three years I sketched and watched people hurrying about their business on this corner. I knew I liked the view of the old Thomas A Becket pub at sunset and I knew it had had some trouble over violent incidents and fights involving broken bottles and shards of glass. I knew a fist or two had been thrown upstairs in Henry Cooper’s gym before that. I even heard it was there that David Bowie rehearsed to become Ziggy Stardust. I liked the old fire station and the fact that it sells old fireplaces. I’d learnt that martyrs were burned here at this junction in ancient times.  I’d had studios in the area from 1995- 2005 and I’d watched many people come and go over many years.  I liked the mirror on the sculpture by Peter Logan, brother of Andrew Logan who also fills his world with mirrored sculptures and jewellery.

‘Esco’…  ‘I become’ (Latin)’ ‘I go out’ (Italian)

Migrants have always come along the Old Kent road. Cutting family ties to escape persecution and to fulfil the dream of a better life. To become someone different, someone better. To become Londoners. I was intrigued by the whelk shells that rested at the base of the sculpture- shells that are symbols of  pilgrimage, shells that spoke of the sea and listening to travellers’ tales from across oceans – ‘ …a word in your shell my friend…’ -and of the moment you pick one up from the beach to hold to your ear and listen. And you listen to yourself. To what is inside you.  To life.

 ‘Agos’… ‘A great sin’ (Ancient Greek)

The journey you make with a painting is one where you listen to your heart and venture into the unknown.  You become obsessed, you beat yourself up, you doubt yourself but you are drawn ever onwards into the dark, always searching for the light.  Over many months and many canvases I reworked this painting over and over. I read about the supposedly murderous King Henry and his fight with Thomas A Becket. A word uttered in the right ear, appealing to an honour code, led to the defiant Becket being martyred for his beliefs. I learnt that King Henry had himself beaten in penance for his actions. I began to see blades in the painting, blades and shards. The pub was being sold, cut from our consciousness. In the painting the old Victorian architecture sits defiantly by the sharp triangular split of the road and on the right hand side a new blade cuts the sky above the Tesco store. The Shard tells a tale of two cities. Two cities that co-exist within a few footsteps of each other but might as well be oceans apart.

And so I finally finished the painting. At its heart it’s a celebration of defiance. It is a reflection of the beauty and stories that one unassuming London street corner can hold.  Strangely I finished it in the week that a relic of the murdered Saint’s elbow was sent on tour to Westminster, along the Old Kent road for one last journey.

A painting begins in many ways, weaving itself together.

One day I find a postcard in Southwark Park lying on the path before me......

Read about this painting on Ed´s Blogg:

Memories of a Free Festival : ‘The Adoration of the Cockney Rebels’ Bermondsey Carnival Southwark Park Acrylic paint,


Adoration of the Cockney Rebels Bermondsey Carnival Southwark Park (Memories of a Free Festival)

160x120cm Acrylic paint, charcoal, chalk and ink on canvas