Hugh Gatenby

I met Hugh by chance, he came to an ‘ELE’ meting a few months ago and drew a remarkably good portrait of the speaker. Hugh teaches English privately to Russians here in Moscow. We made friends and then I discovered a treasure chest – his drawings on facebook. Here is a transcript of a conversation with him, and  a selection of his drawings, and some notes he has made about them. I like his drawings, they are unpretentious, and somehow sum everything up in a  minimalistic, yet revealing way. Enjoy.

John Harrison


How long have you been living in Russia?

My time in Russia has been very fragmented. I spent a very interesting and enjoyable year as a guest of the long defunct Society for Cultural Relations  with the USSR, studying in Moscow as a student at the Pushkin Institute of Russian Language. It was immediately after the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Cold War was going through a particularly icy spell,  and it was a period now referred as the time of ‘stagnation’ by Russian social commentators. I will always be grateful for this Russian Language scholarship –  I was fascinated by the country and  its people and I became a fluent speaker of Russian.

Two of Moscow’s finest on St Patrick’s Day


Morning, Moscow! Catching the sunrise from my 10th floor window

How long have you been drawing for?

I suppose I’ve always done sketches; usually caricatures of friends as birthday cards. However it was only after attending a 3 day workshop in Moscow, given by a superb French artist, that I began to take drawing and sketching  more seriously. I had signed up for the course because, as a French enthusiast I had studied French with the Open University, and I was fascinated to meet a French artist who presumably spoke Russian. It turned out that it was his first visit to Russia, he couldn’t even order a glass of red wine in Russian, and even his English was a bit patchy. He nonetheless was an inspiring teacher; his sketches were brilliant, whimsical observations of life – and it’s thanks to him that I always carry a sketchbook and pens around with me.And hopefully make some observations that will ring true with people.


What materials do you use?

Indelible marker pens (sometimes called ‘fineliners’) watercolour. I’ve also got a kids’ set of bright felt-tips.


How do you feel about the changes in the visual landscape in Moscow – are there any??

Oh, there most certainly are! As a guest of the nation I don’t feel it’s my place to lay into the architectural crimes that have been committed here in post 1980s, I leave that to my more knowledgeable Muscovite friends. Suffice to say I’m convinced that, during the 90s, architectural prizes were awarded for bombast and ugliness. Thankfully, civic planners now seem to be more design and conservation-aware – mostly. A final word. Moscow, for all the noise and bustle inherent in a capital city of its size, remains for me a place of genuine magic.

Margarita, whom I met while she was still a photography student. Now a professional photographer, and still a fiery redhead!

Oh, Olga, choices, choices! Which leather jacket to go for? The black one’s cooler, but they say that red is the new black… And perhaps it goes better with you iPhone case??

Concert goers, St Patrick’s Day

John Harrison, in front of a student audience at Moscow Pedagological University, discoursing on the Power of Culture in East-West Relations.

Anya and Tatiana, future teachers, listen attentively


Saturday morning, very early, on the Moscow metro. Catching up on some sleep. But they moved quickly enough when they got to their respective stations. Some innate sense of place told them that they needed to shift. That, and the station announcements, probably.