Before a Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy called George entered his life, John Dolan lived on a roller coaster of drug abuse, crime, prison, and life on the streets. Then a homeless woman dumped a puppy in his lap, and his life changed.
“He was quite an aggressive dog and he would growl at you. He was also a cat chaser and weary of people. But within a month after I started training him, his personality began to change,” Dolan told the Star Online. “He became a really pleasant dog.”
And to care for that pleasant dog, Dolan needed money. So he started begging on the streets with the dog, and then moved onto sketching the dog and the scenes around him, then selling the work for pocket change, which came via a cup set out before the duo.
The sketches were good, and he sold a lot of them, making a name for himself among residents, passersby, and shop owners. One of those passersby was Richard Howard-Griffin, who runs street art tours and owns a gallery. He’s always on the lookout for talent, and he found some right under his feet.
He wondered whether Dolan might want to show his work in a group show featuring some of the biggest names in street art. Dolan agreed. The 2013 show was a hit. Dolan’s work sold out, and his art career took off. Now, his sketches sell for more than $6,800 each, and he has just opened a solo show Howard Griffin Gallery, which focuses on him and George.
“The story of John and George is one of companionship and hope,” writes the gallery. “Dolan was on the streets when he was given George in exchange for the price of a strong can of lager. Since that time, George has been Dolan’s most loyal companion, ultimately enabling him to change his life. With George at his side, Dolan managed to escape a 20-year cycle of homelessness and prison, establishing himself as one of east London’s most recognizable artists.”
The gallery presents the work in a distinct way, with hundreds of drawings hung on the walls, the repetition representing years of Dolan working on the street, turning out sketches of his dog, the one thing in his chaotic life he could count on. The show also celebrates the release of Dolan’s autobiography John and George: The Dog Who Changed My Life, published by Random House. A solo show in Los Angeles is next.
Dolan’s seemingly overnight success has delighted the man who discovered him.
“I mean, John’s rise has been really meteoric in the art world. It’s like watching an artist’s career in fast-forward — which is really, really amazing,” Howard-Griffin said. “There’s a real relevance to his work, and there’s a real soul in it because it has a true story behind it which is very inspiring, and that’s born out of the work when you look at it.”
And while Dolan’s life has completely changed, one thing has not: He still prefers to draw his dog outdoors, on that East London street, the two of them sitting in their customary spot.
“The drawings that I do of him are quite simple,” said Dolan. “These little ones that I do, I basically try and capture his personality if I can in all of them.”
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