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Ed Gray: Telling the story of London through paintings

A chronicler of the city, this London painter recently had an exhibition in the crypt gallery of St. Pancras church. Works of rigorous observation and passion for the city.

Eugenio Blanco

The drunks, the forgotten, the homeless, people in a hurry, people eating chips on the bus going home, people smoking, arguing, those who come and those who go, all are represented in London, struggling the difficulty of life but also celebrating it.

And if they are in London, they are in the paintings of Ed Gray, the great chronicler of the city whose work was exhibited recently in the Crypt Gallery of St. Pancras church.

With a very personal style Ed Gray expresses an elegy for the vitality of London: “ It’s a city that always knows how to re-invent itself, the people’s energy always pushes it forward”.

This philosophy is clear in his work, an indestructible mosaic which describes the soul of a thousand corners of London.

The exhibition is called London Souls, which is a very appropriate name for what the visitor will encounter standing in front of his work. Paintings which even smell of London, and go beyond the exhaustion or pain of the people to reach the fortress within their life’s journeys.

Ed Gray is a Londoner by birth, studied in Cardiff and has always been interested in telling the stories of urban life. “London is my city, the place I always return to, but I’ve painted other cities and I still do”, he tells me on the phone.

He has lived in New York, Mexico City and Tokyo. In a globalized world where the big chainstores tend to make all cities alike, Ed defends the unique personalities of the great metropolises.

His views are based on the uniqueness of individuals, the inhabitants who always create the particular character of every corner, every neighbourhood, every pub. . . .

Bar Italia for example, which still keeps its personality intact in the network of streets of London’s Soho, and which featured in one of his most successful paintings.

The son of a Guardian journalist, his narrative impulse can be felt in every corner of his paintings.

Thus the industrial background of London, the localities full of bars, the continuous fiesta in its streets, the movements of people with or without direction, the speed, the consumption of information as much as cans of cold drinks, are caught in motion.

In the same way the unmatchable atmosphere of London is recorded, its huge range of greys in contrast to the bright colours of clothes and the buses, and its street corners.

And besides all this, the most distinctive thing about his last exhibition was the space itself where his paintings were hung, which can’t leave anyone indifferent: the damp and gloomy crypt sharpened the effect of his canvasses. More than that: his paintings lived in symbiosis with the niches of the basement space.

It could be thought that Ed Gray’s painting is another form of Cubism. And this would be a good metaphor for his work: it’s not often that life and death were so close – and so graphically depicted – in an exhibition of painting.

(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email:

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