James Gulliver Hancock / Courtesy of Rizzoli USA
February 13, 2018 8:00 AM EST
James Gulliver Hancock / Courtesy of Rizzoli USA

I only have to say the word “Paris” and it conjures up very strong emotions and aesthetic associations in people across the globe. The implications of this name are so universal that I almost need not even put pencil to paper — it’s all there in our heads right after we hear “Paris,” everything from classic food to fine art masters, fashion and even pure romance itself. It is amazing that a city can lay claim to so much strong symbolism in popular culture.

When I visited Paris, I had a similar experience to first being in New York. What can I do to really experience this place? I didn’t want to just wander around taking photos and eating chocolate croissants wishing I’d grown up hanging out in cafés with Jean-Paul Sartre or Picasso. Paris is so well- known that people often have a preconceived map of the city in their head, before they visit in person. The thing, then, is to re-map a place for yourself. To separate myth from reality. I do this with drawing.

James Gulliver Hancock / Courtesy of Rizzoli USA

I use drawing in an attempt to squeeze out as much from those single-moment observations as I can to understand place and its associations more personally. It feels sort of like giving the place a big long hug when I get it right. I turn to buildings because they are the fabric that make up the place that holds all these experiences and associations together. They are silent observers through the ages, gathering the dust of poetry, violence and romance over each decade.

It is amazing that inanimate objects can hold such romantic symbols in their static standing walls. We imbue them with so much history and significance that they become alive. Drawing each experience of place I have in a city helps me more effectively log an understanding of it. It makes me stop and look and really take it all in. If I’d just taken a photo I wouldn’t have seen the little details all the way at the top; the smiling gargoyle or the smell of that particular street might not have overwhelmed me as I drew. When you spend time in one place, you form very strong memories about it that you can savor for life, and can relive through these diary-like drawings. For me drawing allows a moment in time when a pure experience of the present comes out of your body and onto the page in the only way it can at that time. It will never be the same again.

James Gulliver Hancock / Courtesy of Rizzoli USA

I am always drawing, and hence I’m always looking. Paris, like a lot of places I’ve visited, will always be with me because I took time to stop and look and observe how it works. My obsession with representing what is around me is endlessly entertaining and I hope the results in this book are for you as well.

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