Robbie MacGregor: pavement & farm artist

30 May

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Regulars to Islington’s Freightliners Farm or Camden’s Kentish Town City Farm may have been seen a big-bearded Billy Connolly look-alike whipping up swift pen portraits of the animals or even doing a caricature sketch for a bargain carboot price. If so, that’s Islington-resident Robbie MacGregor. Interview by Nicola Baird

robbiemacgregor_ffstallRobbie MacGregor, 57, is sitting on a bench in front of the aviary at Freightliners Farm, N7, with his essential art equipment tied around his waist. On this sunny Bank Holiday Monday (and thursdays) he offers a unique service – swift pen and watercolour portraits for just £2. Examples of his portraits are weighted down with plastic bottles of water to stop them blowing off in the breeze. There are also portfolios of farm animals plus exquisite London landmarks.  It’s a labour of love as around half his earnings he gives back to Freightliners – he’s even done the farm’s distinctive Christmas cards.

robbiemacgregor_pigs

Robbie MacGregor: “ There’s a black pig at Freightliners Farm, but for the pictures it has to be a quintessential pink pig!”

The animal portraits are just 30-second drawings,” he says pointing to a colourful cockerel, the horses used for pony rides at Kentish Town and an array of piglets. Vehicles are a passion too. “I also like to paint buses – the red ones sell well on eBay – and I used to paint a lot of historic cars at the auction houses and Nine Elms  – that’s how I met Brian Sewell (the Evening Standard art critic). If it’s a good day I walk along the River Thames and do drawings of Battersea Power Station, Big Ben, St Paul’s with the wobbly bridge and Tower Bridge.”

robbiemacgregor_stpauls

His building sketches are stunning – so perhaps it’s no surprise to find out that he studied architecture at Edinburgh College of Art/Herriot-Watt, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_College_of_Art but decided not to practice as “40 years in an office wasn’t for me”.  However it has caused some confusion as he admits that: “I have frequent run-ins with the council as they say displaying a picture by the Thames is tantamount to selling. During the Olympics I got a portfolio confiscated which took six weeks to get back from the council…”

 

robbiemacgregor_childpic

Other artists often swap portraits – this one of Robbie is by a little girl during a cricket match. Don’t you just love that big red beard?

A man’s a man for a’ that
Robbie grew up in Ayrshire, Scotland, “Burns country”, as he calls it, and still has a strong Scottish accent (see the big red beard portrait done by his Sri Lankan grocer’s young daughter during a cricket match). After university he “lived on the Isle of Raasay,  near Skye, but couldn’t sell pictures in the winter so ended up in London. “I’ve been here for 20 years now,” he adds clicking his fingers to illustrate just how fast time passes. His twin sister, Fiona, an interior designer, is still in Scotland though. She’s based in Perth, where she lives with her architect husband.

robbiemacgregor_illus

Portraits done by Robbie MacGregor during Freightliners Farm urban fair at Islington Town Hall in 2012. He always gives the farm some of his takings.

robbiemacgregor_bigben

Robbie MacGregor: “If it’s a good day I walk along the River Thames and do drawings of Battersea Power Station, Big Ben, St Paul’s with the wobbly bridge and Tower Bridge.”

Along the South Bank
Sketching portraits outside Tate Modern must make Robbie think about the vagaries of art – how come some names like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin are so well known? But Robbie is taciturn. “There’s a lot of marketing involved. Anyway I don’t want to be famous and stuck indoors doing requests or commissions. If it’s a good day I like to be out,” – and that’s why he loves Battersea Boot held every Sunday (see 2013 dates below). “Selling at a car boot sale is quick cash, but that’s why it’s car boot prices – so it’s £5 during the week, £2 now.” When Battersea carboot closes down for August, Robbie generally attends Cowes Week (the largest sailing regatta in the world), on the Isle of Wight, where he paints houses and also sells his super-quick portraits.

Robbie has a wonderful talent that he enjoys sharing – for absolute bargain prices. So if you’re wondering how to capture memories of your family, a day out at one of the city farms or want a memento of a London view (eg, for overseas visitors) you know who to go to.

  • Battersea Boot is at Battersea Park School playground on Battersea Park Road, SW11. Open every Sunday from 1-5pm, entrance fee 50p for buyers, (except on 4, 11 and 18 August and 22-29 December 2013). Find out more at 07941 383588 or www.batterseaboot.com or follow at http://www.facebook.combatterseacarboot
  • If you enjoyed this interview you might like to read more about Freightliners Farm – this blog’s most popular post – here.

Over to you

What made you move to Islington or get involved in Islington life – do you find it a way to feel safe, make friends or something to be proud about?  By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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6 Responses to “Robbie MacGregor: pavement & farm artist”

  1. Nicolette May 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    I want to come down on a Thursday and buy a picture.

    • homemadekids May 30, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      Yes, he’s marvellous. The Battersea boot sale is his most regular haunt! Nicola

  2. Pete May May 31, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    Magnificent beard! And great pictures too…

  3. Danita Onraet September 5, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    I bought a picture from him at Big Ben and I really want some other London landmarks for my 5 year olds London themed bedroom. Does anyone know how I could get hold of him?

    • homemadekids September 5, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

      Well I have a hunch that he will be at the Freightliners Farm show/celebration day at Paradise Park on Saturday 7 september 2013 in the afternoon as he has done portraits at similar events. Otherwise try going to Freightliners Farm and leaving a message. it’s hard to find him but you may be lucky. Nicola

  4. nicola baird blogs August 26, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

    From an islingtonfacesblog reader, via email:
    Just found your piece on Robbie MacGreggor. At the beginning of the school holidays, I took my daughter, Pippa, to the Matisse Cut-outs exhibition. Afterwards, meandering along the Thames we came across an artist on the pavement; he was sketching St. Paul’s and the wobbly bridge. Pippa took a great interest and watched him for several minutes. Suddenly, he snatched up one of his stock and gave it to her. He wouldn’t accept payment.

    During lunch on the pub terrace, Pippa was busy drawing St. Paul’s and two ‘amorous’ cranes on a building site to the west. All of a sudden, she grabbed her drawing and sped off into the crowds. She is only 6 ½, so I was alarmed and chased after her. When I caught up, she was looking for the artist to give him her sketch in return, but sadly he had vanished.

    I am just framing both pictures and looking at the signature, I was wondering who the mysterious Robbie MacGreggor might be and so Googled the name. Very surprised to find your piece on him. What an interesting character! And generous too!

    If you see him, please say ‘thank you’ from Pippa.

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