Timothy Barber joins Citigroup employees indulging their artistic sides
It’s easy to forget the noise and melee of Canary Wharf’s evening rush hour when you’re standing in the light filled open space of the 27th floor of Citgroup’s headquarters. Down below, thousands of tired workers are flooding from their offices into the tube and DLR stations, but up here something rather special is going on.
You wouldn’t normally associate the world of financial services and banking with getting artistically creative. However, the happy band of Citi employees gathered up here on a sunny Tuesday evening are doing just that. Every week for ten weeks, they’ve been coming up to the top of the Canada Square building for life drawing sessions, under the guidance of tutor Charlie Cobb.
The 30-year-old artist set up his business, City Draw, a couple of years ago as a way of offering office workers the chance to get in touch with their creative sides. He has conducted drawing sessions in companies ranging from HSBC and UBS to legal firm Linklaters, setting up charcoal, easels and life models in boardrooms or other empty spaces, and guiding workers through different skills and artistic disciplines after their colleagues have all gone home.
“There’s always an amount of apprehension from people when they first get involved, and I can fully understand that,” he says. “But people get over that quite quickly once they change their idea of what is a good drawing and what they need to do.”
He adds: “It’s really not the results that are important, so much as the act of making the art and being creative.” Cobb, who provides all the materials, welcomes art enthusiasts of all levels of ability to his sessions, and on this occasion City A.M. is joining in.
Like the Citigroup employees gathered, it’s many years since I had the opportunity to do anything like this. Having spent a bit of time at an art school over a decade ago, I’ve got a bit more experience than many, but nevertheless feel extremely self-aware when it comes to the thought of putting charcoal to paper in public. I’m reassured, however, by the sheer positive energy of the rest of the group.
“It’s easy to feel very vulnerable at first, but you loose your creative inhibitions,” says Bridget Kennedy, Citigroup’s chief financial officer for European transaction services, who has put pictures from previous sessions up in her office. “Most of us haven’t drawn since school, but as we’ve had an opportunity to get our creativity out we’ve become more and more confident.”
Linnet Feilding, who looks after Citigroup’s art collections and knows a good picture when she sees one, agrees.
“It’s fun seeing what people do, you realise that everyone has hidden depths,” she says. “We’ve got to know each other over the sessions and there’s a real family atmosphere in the group – it’s become something really special that you look forward to each week, from a social perspective as well as from a creative one.”
Time to get stuck in then, but not before Charlie has given us a fine introduction to Chinese calligraphy and drawing, the theme for today’s session, guiding us through some examples stuck up on the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Then we’re ready to get cracking. An area of the room has been covered over in polythene, with two long tables facing each other across a space where our model, Esther, stands.
To start things off, Charlie gives us a series of exercises to get our artistic juices flowing. Pencils in hand and with paper spread out on the tables, we first have to draw Esther without looking at what we’re drawing, resulting in a lot of messy squiggles resembling not very much.
We experiment with different media, using coloured pastels, bright pink chalk and finally India ink. We make drawings using tiny marks only and then using just seven lines, all without changing the paper, so that eventually we’ve built up a complete muddle of sketches on top of each other.
It’s extremely liberating – this is not about creating beautiful images so much as allowing our creativity to run free. After a day spent deskbound at a computer, it’s profoundly therapeutic, and made all the more enjoyable by the music played in the background, Charlie selecting a different classical style for each of the exercises. An hour in, the tensions of credit crunches, commuting, office politics and computer screens are a world away.
After a break for drinks and nibbles, the second half of the session is based around a couple of longer poses from Esther, and we’re free to choose our own materials and mediums, and graduate to easels.
Finally the session comes to an end – a relief for our model, no doubt, but the rest of us could carry on all evening. I’m tremendously relaxed and happy – I feel as though I’ve been for a brain massage. And I’ve got some pictures to take home with me I’m pretty proud of too.
For more information visit www.citydraw.com