Exhibition highlights the beauty of Croydon’s buildings

Pumphouse and Porter & Sorter, Croydon. Pic: Nick Richards

Pumphouse and Porter & Sorter, Croydon. Pic: Nick Richards

In recent years, Croydon hasn’t particularly been talked about for its architectural history as it is usually associated with modernisation and skyscrapers. And with a series of new developments poised to open, it seems as though some of the iconic buildings are being left behind.

However, Nick Richards’ new exhibition of pen and watercolour drawings at Matthews Yard gives us a reminder of the beauty and personality behind some of the buildings we so frequently walk past and just how charming they really are.

Richards, 45, from Sydenham works as a part-time graphic designer but has been illustrating for over 20 years after he graduated from Kent Institute of Art & Design (now University for the Creative Arts) back in 1992. 

Richards has had “one piece in a cafe in Soho” and other artworks featured in group exhibitions but this is his first solo exhibition. 

The exhibition includes illustrations of iconic buildings such as Croydon’s Clocktower, Surrey Street Pumphouse, Croydon Minister and Park Hill Water Tower as well as other buildings just outside of Croydon such as the Penge Almshouses and The George Inn, Beckenham.

Richards also has a three-piece collection called Leigh on Sea on display and three separate oil paintings. The exhibition was teeming with enthusiastic attendees on opening night, September 29. 

Nick Richards sketches an attendee. Pic: Phoebe Scott

Nick Richards sketches an attendee. Pic: Phoebe Scott

“I guess I focus more on historical buildings because they’re more interesting to draw, especially with the types of lines that I like,” Richards says when asked why there were no contemporary structures included in his works. 

“Skyscrapers now are totally straight lines whereas these all have kind of got curvy bits, they’ve got more character. You get things like the Gherkin which is a modern building which would be interesting to draw but it’s still relatively plain.

“All these older buildings look more hand-made, modern buildings look as though they’ve been made on a computer or built by robots.”

It’s clear that Richards has taken into account the qualities and characteristics of each of the buildings in his exhibition. He feels that historical buildings reveal the hand of the artist. He described himself as being “old-fashioned”, which is why he may have taken such a keen interest into these structures as he feels like he is reflecting the “human element.”   

He says each piece takes roughly an hour to draw then an hour to add the watercolour once he’s back home. “It’s relatively quick, which is what I quite like about it, they’re almost just sketches, they’re not too perfected, not too finished. There’s meant to be some spontaneity!

“All of these are drawn on location, even the oil paintings are done entirely on location, it’s almost like an experiment for me. I’ve not really done anything like this before”, Richards says.

At first glance, Richards’ work resembles Quentin Blake’s delicate style; the undefined sketches and the gentle watercolour over the top. However, he says his main inspiration was Paul Hogarth, a 20th-century illustrator. 

At the exhibition, Richards was offering to do personal portrait sketches for just £5, which was a great souvenir.

An attendee with her sketch. Pic: Phoebe Scott

An attendee with her sketch. Pic: Phoebe Scott

Next for Richards is to do more oil paintings and to attempt to do more portraits, so it seems these sketches at the exhibition are just the beginning. Using the attendees as practise is certainly a novel idea, and his career is definitely one to watch. 

“Portraits are the ultimate challenge, trying to capture a person is definitely harder than capturing a place… and with oil painting I feel like I’m stretching myself, breaking what I’m used to.”

Richards also says that he’s planning on adding another piece to the exhibition within a week or two. He told me: “I want to do a painting of the Whitgift Almshouse as it’s an old Tudor building I think, but haven’t got around to doing it yet. So that will probably be what I do next, but I’ve got time because you know this is going on for another month.”

If you’ve ever lived in Croydon or in surrounding areas, or if you enjoy historical architecture, or fancy getting a sketch of yourself then do go along.

The exhibition will take place at Matthews Yard, Surrey Street from September 29 until October 29, free admission.

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