About The Author
Matteo Pericoli was born in Milan, where he graduated from the Polytechnic School of Architecture. He moved to New York in 1995, where he has worked as an architect, illustrator, author, journalist and teacher. From 1997 to 2000 he worked at the architectural firm Richard Meier & Partners as the project architect for the Jubilee Church in Rome.
His drawings have been published in various newspapers and magazines, both in the US and in Europe-including the New York Times, The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, Vanity Fair, Il Corriere della Sera and La Stampa.
In 2007 he completed Skyline of the World, a 397-foot-long panoramic mural for American Airlines' new International Terminal at John F Kennedy Airport in New York. He has taught architecture and illustration at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn and is now living with his wife and daughter in Turin. He holds a Visiting Professorship at the Polytechnic of Turin, Faculty of Architecture and is working on new projects on London and Turin, as well as teaches architecture to creative writing students at the Scuola Holden.
Having previously created a 22-foot image of the Manhattan skyline, he has now drawn the two banks of the Thames, as seen form the river, which are published as two fold-out 37-foot drawings in London Unfurled.
Matteo will be discussing his extraordinary new project with Bruno Vincent at Foyles on 6th October: click here to book tickets for this free event.
A reproduction of the artwork will be on display in the Gallery at Foyles, Charing Cross Road from 4th until 26th October. In the interview below, Matteo discusses why he chose London, how he went about recording images for the project and which locations he's tempted to try next.
Author photo © Roger Lanoue
Questions & Answers
Your work has been described as "monumental and gentle", which seems a wonderfully accurate summation. Could you say a little about how your style of drawing evolved? Specifically, what is it that you like about line drawing over other visual art forms, sketching or painting say?
Thank you. Well, it is not easy to explain how one's 'style' evolves. Or even how to recognize it, for that matter! Maybe it is because you don't know it is a 'style' until you look back. In fact, when I look back at these 37-foot-long sheets of paper, I see many different styles chasing one another. I see the beginning when you have to come up with a language, I see the many doubts and indecisions. I think that line drawings show you what one thinks rather than what one sees. Sketching and painting mirror other brain activities. A 'simple' line, a hard line, is, more often than not, the result of a very specific decision process. Reality is messy, and line drawings look for a narrative that can be easily understood.
Why did you choose to draw the skyline of London as opposed to somewhere else?
I was interested in finding a place with the reverse relationship between the city and its natural obstacle (water) as compared to my previous works on Manhattan, which has historically always given its back to the water. The Thames in London offered a unique viewpoint to describe the incredible energy that an apparently innocuous flowing body of water can generate on its urban surroundings.
Which building was the most difficult to draw?
I would say the Houses of Parliament. And this wasn't only because of the intricacy of its million windows and gothic-like decorations, but because, even if I didn't know London when I began this project, I knew that very building, it already belonged to my visual baggage, and that's not a good thing if you want to learn.
You didn't know London before you started the project; do you feel that you know it better now?
I have no idea. I feel I know certain things more than even many Londoners. When I come back I stare at the skyline looking for all the things I missed, or all the things I discovered, and re-live many of the emotions that I felt during the two-week period when I gathered most of the photographic material (6300+ photos) and walked more than 100km. But, on the other hand, I feel that I still know nothing about the city, that I should know it more. After all, how do we know when we really know something well? Probably never.
You're an Italian, but you tend not to draw Italy; do you think that it's better to draw places that you don't know?
It is very possible. I discovered that the way I grow attached to the subjects I draw is so much 'purer' in some ways when I start fresh and I let the drawing process lead me to liking, disliking, or even becoming infatuated with something I am working on. Doing this on a subject you know so well, or too well, or with which there is an emotional entanglement is tough.
If you had to draw another city where would you draw?
I am thinking about this now as I am thinking about my nextproject. I am not sure. I would love to end up drawing cities that are truly far away, both physically and culturally. I imagine Hong Kong or other Asian cities being a wonderful subject, exactly for the reasons I mentioned above (a parenthesis: I am not a traveller at all. I love to discover places by drawing them, but that has to happen in my studio, wherever that may be). Or perhaps South America, Rio de Janeiro for example, another city that is about to reinvent itself for the Olympics and for the Football World Cup. But, who knows, maybe Rome would be great too. Having a chance to finally deal with Italy's greatest heritage, its past, using my experience to learn about something I should be more familiar with.
How did you prepare for the drawing? Did you collect photographs or videos of the skyline to help you, or did you draw from the river?
I basically walked and walked and walked, and took photos upon photos upon photos. I knew that the only way to make some order out of all of that new information I was gathering was to have a chance to sit down and go over all the photos, one by one. Videos do not work for that purpose (don't know why) and drawing in situ belongs to another skill or technique that I don't practice very much (I am actually not that good at it). What I need instead is to have as much information about a place as possible, and absorb it quietly for as long as possible. At some point (a beautifully mysterious point), I know that I can start sketching the skyline because I have learned something. But it is still a rough sketch with the many possible skylines embedded in it. And then, at another mysterious point, I begin to ink the lines I want to keep. And the lines that I draw are all un-erasable. That's the most exciting
Can you describe briefly the practicalities of your drawing, i.e. where you drew most of the project, with what tools and implements, for how long each day?
Once the process has begun, meaning that I know how far (distance-wise) I have to go and how much time, more or less, I have ahead of me, I actually measure day sessions by the amount of centimetres I have to draw to reach my goal. I am like a very slow engine, moving along, left to right (as I am right-handed), eager to roll up the completed sections onto my left dowel and to unroll new paper from my right one. This phase is strange: it is like having the anxiety of a daily deadline and the pleasure of completing it at the end of the day. If the x-amount of centimetres that I have to complete on a given day includes an easy portion of the city, I finish early and happily do other things. If that day is, say, the Houses of Parliament day, well, it lasts days and days and it is a high anxiety time for me!
How long did it take you to complete the project from start to finish?
I began to work on the project right after the summer of 2009, when I came to London and spent two weeks taking pictures and studying London's amazingly complex bus system. After that, I began working on the actual drawings and completed them this past spring.
There's so much small scale detail in your work, yet that these details are part of something as large as London. Which aspect of the drawing do you enjoy more, the big stuff or the little stuff?
Because of the obsessive way I work, I don't actually see big stuff vs. small stuff. I only see lines. Sometimes I think that if I were to work with a magnifying lens or on a very large (meaning very tall) piece of paper, I would get lost in the details. And I think of fractals: how deep could one go? But then I also know - actually, I feel - that it wouldn't happen. Line drawings are very similar to writing. You know when you are using too many words to say something, same way as you know when you are using too many lines. The balance between too few and too many is another mystery. You know when it's one way or another, but you don't know why.