UK Artist John Dolan Sought Freedom, And Found It In Street Art


There’s an enchanting, gripping fascination when one encounters something truly inspirational. You’re completely hooked like a helpless fish, reliving every twist and turn with each struggling pull and yank of the story line. When all seems devoid of hope, giving in to the reeling tug of depression, life always has a surprising way of giving you the second wind to break free.

For the past six and half years, John Dolan and his canine¬†companion, George, have been a part of High Street in Shoreditch (London) just as much as the surrounding architecture. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier sits valiantly poised, facing the street while gazing into the eyes of curious, amazed onlookers as his master draws a beautiful depiction of the decrepit buildings on the other side. Sometimes he draws George, sometimes he receives requests. But it all started out with just simply doing it to save himself the embarrassment of begging for money. You see, these streets used to literally be John’s home.

A gifted artist at a young age, John was even offered an art contract at 13. His father was very creative and supported John’s talent by buying him comic books, his mother would proudly show her friends how artistic her son was. Then one day, his parents revealed that they were actually his grandparents, shattering John’s world into a million pieces. Unfortunately, John didn’t possess the courage to glue those pieces back together, and remained broken for many years.

His life from then on his life became a revolving door of crime and jail. In order to support himself, he had to resort to robbery because he couldn’t hold a steady job. He got by living by using drugs and alcohol. Constantly going in and out of jail, he just couldn’t break the disastrous cycle. All of a sudden, after another brief stint in the pen, he had discovered that there wasn’t a home to go back to. His grandparents never wanted to see him again and he didn’t have the financial stability to find a place to live. John decided to take refuge in a building site to rest until the following morning. Unbeknownst to him, a security guard patrolled the site and attempted to apprehend John. He managed to escape by jumping over a wall, but his ankle gave way and his arthritis kicked in upon his landing. With his mobility limited, John was forced to beg people for money by either walking up to them or sitting on the sidewalk with hat on the ground.

Then an unwanted, one year old pup named George entered his life. He was given George by a pair of drifters, who had purchased the dog off a mad Scotsman for a strong can of lager. From the beginning, George was a blessing for John. He trained the dog to sit and placed his hat in from the George, attracting more people to give up their money or taking pictures with the dog. During the winter season, John would wrap George up in a coat of blanket and continue to sit together. Being responsible for another life, George essentially helped John free himself from depression and his drug addiction.

Tired of feeling embarrassed just sitting there and begging for money, John began drawing again after decades. And what started off as doing something to pass the time, became his salvation. Word had quickly spread of the awesome-twosome, John’s drawings were selling and he was even invited on local radio stations. In 2013, an agent had even approached him and set-up his first exhibition, “George the Dog, John the Artist”, which John collaborated with 46 other artists (ROA, Steve ESPO Powers, Thierry Noir, Broken Fingaz Crew, etc.) and was a sell-out. He has recently written a book of his experience titled, “John & George: The Dog Who Changed My Life”, detailing his amazing path to success.

Rags-to-riches kind of stories like these are what makes life so magical, that shimmering light of hope that appears when it all seems completely dark. For John, that shimmering light took the form of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier that is always by his side since day one, and John’s world couldn’t be any brighter now.

Peace to John Dolan and the Howard Griffin Gallery

charles.keeranan@gmail.com'

by Charles Keeranan

Writer. Lover of Art. charlesk@freshwounds.com

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