Trellick Tower, Tate Modern, Elephant & Castle - illustrator Paul Catherall tells Jessica Holland about his obsession with the city’s more eclectic buildings.
“I’ve always loved London architecture - especially the stuff that isn’t picture postcard,” Paul Catherall says, explaining why he’s obsessed with making prints of the capital’s more eccentric landmarks. ” They’re uncelebrated icons of the city. Paris doesn’t have an equivalent to Trellick Tower or Battersea Power Station.”
A stark block of flats and a concrete power plant are strange choices to demonstrate what makes London beautiful, but Catherall has a soft spot for unloved architecture. “I quite like Elephant and Castle shopping centre,” he confesses, ” although I can see why people think it’s horrible. I was brought up in Coventry, so it reminds me of my childhood.
“My favourite part of London has to be South Bank the National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall and Hayward Gallery. People lump it in with 50s and 60s brutalism, which everyone loves to hate because they associate it with high- rise blocks and multi- storey car parks.
“But on a sunny day it forms an abstract design, the way the light hits the shapes. It’s beautiful.”
Catherall, 40, studied illustration in Leicester before moving to the capital in 1989. He started as a commercial painter, gaining commissions to create pub signs for Marston’s brewers and publishers like HarperCollins. Things changed when he took a trip to San Francisco and saw posters of the city’s parks designed by commercial artist Michael Schwab. Inspired to follow a similar path, he began making brightly coloured, graphic linocuts of his favourite parts of London, combining the aesthetic of 30s travel posters with a love of clean, sharp lines.
You may have spotted his work on the Tube: he’s one of London Underground’s most prolific poster designers and his first, a bold image of Tate Modern with a splash of pink sky, has become something of a Tube classic in itself. He’s still a working illustrator with recent commissions including Brit design company Established & Sons, Armistead Maupin’s latest book cover and unexpected hit The Cloudspotter’s Guide.
Upcoming is a series of new posters for the rebranded London Overground, including one of Hackney Empire and another to promote the Eurostar link, featuring Paris and St Pancras. Now he’s about to unveil his second solo exhibition at Oxo Tower, itself a subject of his prints. The show features his trademark architectural images as well as original posters and book designs. But the focus is definitely on his adopted home town.
“This city’s got far more personal buildings,” he reckons, “places lesser known to tourists but iconic to Londoners.” He adds: “People in London seem to be more attached to certain buildings, and treat them, like old cars, as part of their life.” Paul Catherall: Shaping the City, the. gallery@oxo, 1- 18 May 2008, Oxo Tower, Bargehouse St, SE1, 11am- 6pm daily, free, www.paulcatherall. com