how beauty arose from tragedy

During the pandemic the rest of us joined him and already, surveys of the period show that many experienced a weird slowing down of time /

Although this was bracing for some, that it was isolating and depressing for many should not be underestimated. Still, something of that slo-mo essence comes out in Botting’s pictures, as well as his delight in being able to find new spaces in the city.

“I’ve tried to paint Borough Market before but by 11am could not see a thing because it was too busy,” says Botting. “In Covid it had a reduced population, so I could really see the form and depth of the place, and pick out characters.”

Lockdown clues abound in his other works. In his street scene Lidgate and Daunt – a butcher and bookseller respectively – the former is open and the latter closed, while in Winter Swimmers, Highgate Botting captured the Covidian feeling of purposeful isolation with a wintry wild swimmer steeling himself on the end of a diving board.

As an observer of human behavior, Botting is interested in how the upheaval seems to have both decelerated our sense of time and led us into a search for tangible experiences for their own sake, as seen in the rise in mindfulness, cold-water swimming, cycling without a destination and baking banana bread.

“This sense of living in the moment really came out when people became so pleased to simply meet others,” he says. “When you’ve denied something it becomes more precious. I think – or perhaps I hope – that it’s brought people closer and made them worth simply being with family and friends. ”

There have been painters of the solitary urban experience, such as the Italian Gorgio de Chirico and Edward Hopper, whose 1942 painting Nighthawks is the icon of city loneliness. For his part, Botting tries to get that sense of “watching the world while escaping from it”.

His paintings of leisure and cultural pursuits, from gallery-goers in The National Gallery to tennis players in Campden Hill Lawn Tennis Club and sunbathers in Summer in Polzeath, finds that sweet feeling of holiday and sporting contentment.

There’s also some delicious observations of London’s café society and restaurants, including paintings inside The Wolseley, Brasserie Zedel and Sam’s Riverside – where Botting tried to make himself as invisible as possible in order to paint freely – and pub and café life from Tresco to Old Compton Street, hence the show’s title.

“It already seems extraordinary that a year ago, going outside was a huge deal,” says Botting. “It pushed everyone outside which was good for me, although sometimes painting these scenes was properly chilly.”

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