Picture gallery: Former Telegraph cartoonist Nicholas Garland brings colour of London’s 2012 Olympics to life

Olympic opening ceremony (night)

Olympic opening ceremony (night) - Credit: Archant

Two years ago, cartoonist Nicholas Garland landed the commission of a lifetime – to capture the atmosphere and events of the impending 2012 Olympics.

The Belsize Park artist was tasked with creating a graphic record of the Games by London Mayor Boris Johnson, his former colleague on The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator.

They were at a dinner together when the offer came out of the blue: “He is not a personal friend but a long-standing professional colleague. He didn’t enlarge on why he wanted me to do it. He just said: ‘Go to the Games and draw them like a war artist, who draws whatever he sees’.”

Thus the 79-year-old enthusiastically joined the honourable tradition of artists who have captured world events.

“If you think of Henry Moore’s sketches of Londoners sheltering on Tube platforms or Dr Gachet’s little drawing of Van Gogh on his deathbed, it’s funny how much a drawing can capture the actuality of the event in an unexpected way more than a photograph. I have often noticed a scribbled drawing can be extraordinarily powerful in bringing something back or making you feel it.”


Armed with an all-areas press pass and valuable advice from fellow cartoonist Posy Simmonds, Garland wandered at will with his satchel of coloured pencils, quickly learning it was easier to capture the spectators than the athletes.

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“Drawing an Olympic event is almost impossible. You are 100 to 300 yards from the nearest athlete and it happens so fast, there’s no time to study it. Even in the stadium you cannot record the entire scene – you have to pick out a little detail. I soon realised my subject wasn’t the athletes but the general feel of the Games, the park, the volunteers and the wonderful, excited, good-natured, enormously varied crowds.”

For Garland, it was the people who made the Games so special.

“I had very little time to prepare and absolutely no idea of what was going to happen. As the Olympics unfolded, I was as surprised as everyone by the extraordinary carnival mood. It was like a pantomime transformation scene. London wasn’t like London at all. Tube trains were packed with people of all countries laughing and talking. It was one of the happiest things, it made you love London.”

He’s delighted these drawings have been compiled into a book and are now exhibited at the Museum of London, which holds 200 of the originals in its collection.

But after years scouring the radio, TV and daily news to deliver a daily political cartoon, he’s concerned about the future of satirical cartoons.

“I was fired from the Telegraph three years ago. They didn’t give a reason, just said goodbye, push off. Everyone is more interested in websites and not buying and holding a newspaper any more.

“Political cartoons are a more complex job than people think. It is not just mocking or grotesque representations of politicians. Sometimes you are reflecting back the day’s news in graphic form and sometimes that is very sad and melancholy – you wouldn’t make a satiric joke about it, rather you want to express the emotions people are feeling.”

Drawing the Games: London 2012 and Nicholas Garland runs until September 28 and features more than 60 woodcuts, watercolours and sketches. The museum has also opened a new gallery housing the London 2012 cauldron designed by Thomas Heatherwick.