Beauty and the Beast, Southwark

This an assortment of drawings done over the last few months as I’ve been keeping an eye on the steadily-rising beast that is the Shard, due to be completed at London Bridge next year. I can see it from home in Wapping. It greets me as I cycle out of my little road, popping its head above the rows of houses and warehouses. As I peddle around the corner and head towards the City its shoulders and torso rise up and dominate the skyline, over-powering Tower Bridge (and to think how the Victorians would have marvelled as that as it went up!). The cranes of the Shard are like arms, turning and waving to the planes in the sky,or  beckoning boats on the river. I admit I can’t get my head around the size and scale of it, and it agitates every conservative bone in my body as I fear London is due to gather more and more glass boxes. But it rises  and rises and no doubt Londoners will take it to their hearts as they did the Wheel and Gherkin.

So here’s a few views as I try to get my head around its place in the skyline. And further on, exploring its relationship with Southwark Cathedral.  Across the river, I am sometimes saddened as the Shard appears to gradually overwhelm the delicate array of roof lines. But at other times I love how the light changes and the pinnacles and Gothic forms of Southwark Cathedral fight back, their florid shapes remind me of the shoots of a young plant breaking free of the earth. Look closer, and the buttresses and gables are further shoots peeking out. So different to everything around it, the cathedral is re-born again with every new sunrise, and, so close to the river, re-baptised by every new tide.

I must go back and draw more soon. Since coming back from holiday a whole stage of the Shard has been completed, and I want to record its last stages for posterity, for history, for a series of prints, for what end I don’t know. I want to develop its relationship with the cathedral too. This church has always been a spiritual sanctuary, but also now so much a physical and sensual sanctuary from the chaos of London Bridge and Borough Market. I wonder if in some way the new is taking on some of the responsibilities of the old. Five centuries ago the cathedral was the landmark, the centre for worship, society and commerce, its tower stuck four pinnacles in the faces of St Paul’s and Westminster (I’ve always seen London’s spires as friends and rivals that talk to each other across the rooftops). Now the Shard, so visible from both west and east, and like other spires of commerce or industry along the river (Bankside and Battersea Power Stations, the Oxo Tower) it taunts the smug face of the north bank.

Drawn when walking home along Tower bridge one evening

From the cathedral close

Drawn from the balcony of Fishmonger’s Hall on the north bank

The Cathedral, the edge of Borough Market, and the Shard

Southwark Cathedral as seen from the start of London Bridge

Southwark’s spire by night

The Shard, drawn from a cold hard pavement next to the bus station