Below the River – Southsayer: Paul Catherall, printmaker and illustrator

Paul Catherall’s bold linocuts of London architecture are instantly recognisable. He’s had commissions ranging from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the House of Commons, and his 2003 Tate Modern artwork is part of the LT Museum’s current Tube-themed Poster Art 150 exhibition. Other south London landmarks to been Catherall-ed include the “great Brutalist monuments” of the Southbank Centre and Battersea Power Station, as well as the Shard and the “much maligned” Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. But Catherall is an honorary south Londoner: hailing from Coventry (“the original concrete jungle!” he quips) he now lives in Stoke Newington, but has worked out of his studio near Brixton, for the past 10 years. “I draw most of my inspiration from the capital’s more characterful landmarks,” he says, “many of which are south of the river.”

When were you happiest?

It’ll sound naff but… I’m happily married, I’ve got two lovely kids – a two-year-old boy, Sidney, and we just had our second, Sadie, nine weeks ago – and after a long struggle I actually make a living out of what I enjoy .

What is your favourite south London sound or smell?
It has to be the jerk chicken wafting from Jerk Island in Loughborough Junction – it’s around the corner from my studio, Artichoke Printmaking. If I’m printing into the night a carton of jerk chicken, rice and peas from there is my reward.

Where do you hang out?

These days – Diddi Dance and the playground. If it’s a sunny day, I’ll head for the Royal Festival Hall, see left, and Southbank Centre for an amble, a coffee and a cake.

What have you learned?

Hmm, workwise – you can’t polish a turd. It was one of my old tutor’s mottos, and it’s turned out to be true! Lifewise – er, you can’t polish a turd?

What is your earliest memory?

It sounds awful but I think it was telling my mum and auntie that my cousin Steve’s drawing wasn’t as good as mine. I was four.

 What makes you unhappy?

My wife watching EastEnders. Not knowing how to make my computer do what I want – for example I have 11,000 photos on iPhoto and I don’t know how I am going to get them off.

What simple thing would improve the quality of your life?

Not being a Luddite.

What is your most unappealing habit?

What is your guilty pleasure?

Sainsbury’s custard doughnuts – five for 69p. I usually buy a pack on Brixton Road on my way to Artichoke, where I eat three and generously share the other two. If I had the time, though, I’d much rather buy a Portuguese nata pastry from Max Snack Bar on Brixton Station Road and a coffee from Federation Coffee in Brixton Village.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My hair looks like a hat after I wash it and I’ve got Mr Tumnus legs.

What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?

“You look like Richard Hammond.”

Tell us a secret

I have been known to talk to my wife’s cuddly toys.

What’s your best south London night?
Stone Roses at Brixton Academy, 1995 – the best gig musically to have the worst ever vocals. And the party we had in our old shared studio in Clapham afterwards.


The private view I had at the now sadly departed Clapham Art Gallery – there was a massive storm and all the local Tubes and stations were closed because of flooding.

What has your career taught you?

It’s boring but true – to be able to do what you want there’s a lot of hard slog involved. You have to plough through the shit times. Go knocking on doors, cart your portfolio around town, take on another job to supplement your art work. I’ve been a dinosaur at the Natural History Museum, packed boxes in a toy warehouse and worked as a post boy during my early thirties…

The house I live in is…

Overrun by toys.

What have you been up to today?

Signing, framing and wrapping prints in preparation for my upcoming exhibition, drinking coffee, changing nappies, singing Shaddapa Ya Face to get my two-year-old son to sleep (don’t ask) and listening to Radcliffe and Maconie on BBC6 Music.

A solo exhibition of new work and high-profile commissions from Paul Catherall runs from 1-19 May at Gallery@Oxo, Oxo Tower and Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, SE1. Admission is free

See the full interview at Below the River