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.
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
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.
Foyles Interview with Matteo Pericoli — here
Pericoli designed the U.S. cover for Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann and one of his most recent publications is London Unfurled. In the interview he discusses some of the processes behind the creation of that piece. You probably also know him for drawing the views out of 63 windows in New York.