Julian Bell | When The City Is Built

9 – 19 October 2019
Menier Gallery
51 Southwark Street
London SE1 1RU


‘A day in the life of London by this great visionary painter, from the single mum skyping in the highrise to the moonlit park and the supermarket checkout: the city is the people.’ The Observer (6.10.19)

‘Rollicking Bruegelesque paintings of contemporary London by a magician of colour.’ Guardian Art Weekly (11.10.19)

‘When the City is Built is a collection of scenes occurring during a single summer’s day in contemporary London. Fictional characters pass through. An elderly foreigner arrives and seeks, disoriented, for his granddaughter. She meanwhile nannies the infant son of a North London architect. This architect’s older son is a City intern. The story is as you wish: it has no text beyond this.’  Julian Bell 2019 

The paintings, each with its own terse one-word title (Flightpath, Bridge, etc),  veer from personal and intimate experiences to the public sphere: a rooftop bar, business meetings, a supermarket checkout, a passport queue.

Beyond the foregrounded stories, it is clear that the real subject is London and that the exhibition reflects the artist’s love of the city and his curiosity in people.

Julian says: ‘Each painting leads me into different places and different thoughts. I start each day with buoyancy so I hope there is some tenderness in the paintings, some love, people helping each other. There is a balance of trying to explore emotional as well as metropolitan experiences.

‘I hope it says that painting is a good way of thinking about contemporary life and the textures of experience. What things feel like these days. I want to show the maelstrom of the contemporary world: there are divine possibilities, but more of the time you are in the middle of the shit.’

Welcome to When The City Is Built.

A note about the artist: Julian Bell was born in 1952 and descends from the Bloomsbury Group: his grandmother is Vanessa Bell, his grand-aunt Virginia Woolf and his father Quentin Bell. He is a highly-established painter as well as an author (What Is Painting? Mirror of the World). Julian is editor of Ways of Drawing, to be published October 2019 by Thames & Hudson. His work is held in public collections including Museum of London and Brighton & Hove Museums.