James Oses' Brixton sketches jumped out at me one day while scrolling through Facebook. A one-time Brixton resident myself back in the early 90’s, I was instantly attracted to the landmarks depicted in the sketches for their energetic reportage style that captures that Brixton energy really well.
|The Railway Hotel, Atlantic Road|
What is it that drew you to Brixton, James?
I think Brixton has a very distinct character that makes it a really unique part of London. From an artistic perspective it's very appealing as there's a real mixture of subject matter - the markets, architecture, just the general atmosphere. It always feels bustling, as well, which is perfect for sketching on site. I'm pretty interested in South London's history too, particularly Brixton. Urban75.org is a great resource if you're into old photos of the area! I think having an interest to begin with helps, as you feel a bit more engaged with what you're drawing.
|Electric Avenue – London's first electrified street and of course inspiration for the Eddy Grant hit|
Your sketch of Electric Avenue beautifully captures the feeling and energy of the market. Where are you sketching from?
From the overground platform at Brixton train station. It was really cold when I did that picture and I had to stand to see over a wall while I was painting and drawing. That one is a little under A2 in size so slightly awkward to hold a drawing board for a few hours! I should probably get an easel but that would be common sense…
|Ramzey Greengrocer, Market Row|
Tell us about your technique and materials.
I like to use a traditional style dip pen. I gravitated to these after admiring Ronald Searle’s work as a student. What I really like about them is that, depending on the nib, you can go from a really thin to really thick line by varying hand pressure. This makes them very expressive to work with. Watercolours go great with ink and I really like their transparency and brightness as well. They can also be used in a quick way to describe colour which is very important for working on location.
|Reliance Arcade, Electric Lane|
What makes a subject stand out to you and make you sketch them?I think I’m drawn to movement a lot of the time. Though I love drawing architecture, I think often what makes a picture interesting is the human activity going on around a particular environment. People also help to give a sense of scale of what is the main focus of your picture.
|The Ritzy Cinema, Brixton on its 100th birthday|
Music is never far away in Brixton. Either songs about the place or the musicians who have lived there, from legendary Jamaican Ska trombonist Rico Rodriguez to reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, Paul Simonon of The Clash, and of course the late David Bowie was born in Brixton. Describe the scene of your David Bowie mural sketch.
I’ve been a big fan of David Bowie for a long time so it was sad to hear he had passed away. I play guitar as well, and Mick Ronson - his lead guitarist during the 70s - is easily one of my all time favourite players.
I was a little hesitant to draw the mural – by the artist Jimmy C – as I wasn’t sure whether it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to promote myself off the back of a rather sombre event if that makes sense. I wasn’t going to draw the memorial but a friend convinced me as they thought it was something that would be good to record, being a moment in time. It was shortly after Bowie died, and fans really congregated around the area, laying flowers and candles, and writing lyrics and messages. I wanted to try and capture this while the focus was still on the mural itself. If the sketch is sold the proceeds will be for charity.
Tell us a bit about yourself. You're an illustrator with a reportage focus -- is that right?
Yes. I tend to think of drawing places on site to sell as original art or prints as a separate part of it though. For illustration, I don’t always have the opportunity to do the whole end product on site, or it’s simply not right for the job. With my Borough Market illustration for example, all the reference is sketched on site in a Moleskine first, which I think helps keep final illustrations feel reportage based. I do this as much as possible with any illustration though, as I think it does really help. I tend to use brush pens when I’m sketching like this as they give flexible line but in a much more portable, quick to use way.
|Reliance Arcade, Brixton Road|
To see more of James' art, visit his website or Facebook.