Peony tells us about the pre-pandemic part of her residency:
I’ve been working on these since the beginning of the residency. They capture moments I found interesting in their ordinariness: builders drinking coffee outside Waitrose, people having smoke breaks, people whose clothes or faces I liked.
Almost without realising I started to do a lot of ones of corner shops and market stalls around places like Caledonian Road. There's just something about the familiar yet eclectic nature of corner shops that really appealed to me, and they felt like very human grounding places in an area which is becoming quite homogeneous and gentrified in parts.
These drawings became something like the connecting points on a spider’s web; I like that put together they form something of a map of transitional moments in Kings Cross over a number of months.
Outside of the residency I’ve actually begun to draw from any photos of corner shops and market stalls from areas I know well – it’s been a soothing hobby to do while in lockdown and unable to go to any of those places properly.
In the first three months of the residency, I would go for walks around King’s Cross a couple of times a week to draw, take photos and jot things down. While I definitely look for interesting things to record, I find it difficult to talk to strangers which can be a bit of an obstacle – I often feel more like a voyeur than anything else.
This conversation however was very special to me in its organic-ness. I’d stopped in St Pancras to watch an elderly man play one of the pianos there, and gave him a thumbs up when he’d finished, sparking the short conversation I’ve documented in this comic.
He told me a bit about his history of playing the piano, and how he gets the train from Nottingham every week just to play the pianos here and to make people smile.
He had to rush off at the end to get his train and I never even got his name, which I’m still quite sad about. I look for him every time I go through St Pancras, but so far I haven’t seen him again.
This unfinished comic uses the words from that conversation.
You can’t really talk about King’s Cross without talking about gentrification, and this comic is a response to that. It combines some written work from my sketchbook with a collage of photos from around Coal Drops Yard.
One facet of gentrification that particularly interests me is façadism: knocking down old buildings but keeping the front, then constructing a new building behind it. Though there’s often good reason to do this, I still find a bit saddening. There’s something about it that feels like exploiting the past to give an air of ‘authenticity’ rather than to actually preserve a place’s history.
The words in the comic come from some writing I’d done in a sketchbook reflecting upon this as a topic, and is something of a rumination about how it relates to both London as a place, and the concept of authenticity itself.
It felt wrong to directly ‘illustrate’ this piece of writing with more traditional drawings, as that felt almost like exploiting the architecture of the area I was thinking about just as much as that same gentrification does.
Instead I treated the imagery in this comic like an experimental exercise, using photographs and block colours to create a rhythm of shapes that push and pull with each panel and page. This is something I often like to play with in my comics: creating imagery that doesn’t purely ‘illustrate’ the words, but instead reflects the energy or flow of them.
Public poetry stickers
These public poetry pieces are a continuation of some work I’ve been doing on and off for a year or so now, where I take found phrases and poems I’ve written myself and place them back in the location that inspired them.
The found phrases come from a wide variety of sources: overheard conversations, social media, packaging and adverts. I like to think of them as a mirror back on a place, one that hopefully may spark a moment of reflection for the reader who comes across it.
I love the idea of removing something from its original context and it becoming transformed by the individual experience of the person viewing it, where it becomes fresh and unique for each new set of eyes.
Most of this series are based around the Coal Drops Yard area of Kings Cross, due to its radical transformation in recent years.
A lot of the people I talked to had incredibly strong memories of it back in the ’90s when the coal sheds housed the infamous nightclub Bagleys. Since becoming entirely abandoned and redeveloped into high end boutiques and the Samsung KX store, it was a strange disconnect to listen to so many stories of raves and late nights in a place that is now so sterile and privatised.
I’m not trying to make a judgement on that change – cities by their nature constantly evolve. But it’s undeniably jarring to have two such different versions of a place exist simultaneously, in a way.
House of Illustration’s annual Illustrator in Residence Programme is made possible through generous support from The Barbara and Philip Denny Trust.