A pint of lager and a portrait, please

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The Independent Online
THE FACES of the drinkers who gather around the bar at The Conqueror in Shoreditch, east London, are already familiar to the barmaid. They are about to become familiar to art lovers in Italy too.

By the end of the month 15 of the regulars at The Conqueror will have been immortalised in individual oil portraits. The ambitious work, which is almost complete, will then be shipped out to Turin in its entirety to go on exhibition - and, rather more unusually, so will its 15 human subjects.

"All of us will be going out in a coach for the opening of the show at the Castello Rivara in Turin," explained Alexander Guy, the Scottish artist behind the paintings and a frequent visitor to the pub.

"It is a strange coming together of things. All right, I am using a traditional genre - the oldest one in the book - but rather than making it voyeuristic, I am trying to put the people outside the painting."

The Conqueror can be fairly described as a traditional East End pub. Cosy, dark and wood-panelled. No frills or fake bookcases. Luckily, the portraits have gone down well with the down-to-earth clientele.

"He has captured what was going on in here at the time," said Gavin. "There was a hard core of us and it was a madhouse for a while. Sandy has got the way we all saw one another."

Jimmy is also happy with his portrait, although he noticeably has one tooth fewer now. "I lost it when someone fell on me drunk in the pub," he said.

The rest of the cast includes cab drivers, market traders, bar clearers and the odd graphic designer. Inevitably, Guy has found it hard to draw the line at 15 paintings.

"Lots of people said to me, why don't you paint one of me? But I'm not a machine. It couldn't go on and on," he said.

The work, quite different from his better-known tongue-in-cheek, pop art studies of rubber dinghies and motor bikes, is, he argues, not about "pretending to be naive or trying to be alternative". It is just that Guy feels - with the British art scene as it is at the moment, largely concerned with hype and fashion - he would be happy enough to be known as a local artist in his neighbourhood.

Guy, 38, came to London 12 years ago to study at the Royal College of Art. He teaches every other week at Dundee University and is one of a stable of young painters shown regularly by gallery owner Graham Paton. He has already exhibited widely in Britain, Japan and Europe.

"Alexander has a very strong style and a real talent," said Mr Paton. "He is someone whose reputation is likely to keep on growing."

And there is already interest. On Wednesday a collector from Hong Kong offered to buy all the portraits in a job lot, but Guy had to turn him down.

"I could have done with the money," he said, "but I'd have had to paint them all again in time for the exhibition."

The pub regulars' trip to Italy will be financed in part by the documentary makers, October Films. But there are a few glitches to sort out first. One of the regulars dislikes travel and several do not have passports.