LONDON — A former homeless man's sketches of his dog George, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier he credits with changing his life, are commanding rising prices in a London gallery and have earned him a show in Los Angeles.
John Dolan, 43, who used to sell his sketches for pocket change and now gets about $6,800 for them, said he had descended into a life of poverty, drugs, crime and homelessness until a homeless woman got George, then a puppy, in exchange for the price of a can of beer and gave the dog to Dolan.
He started drawing the dog and the scenes around him while begging on the street, and soon passersby were buying his sketches, he said.
"The drawings that I do of him are quite simple but I've done one that's been in most of the papers, it's the very detailed one, it's quite a big drawing," Dolan said, while sitting in his favourite spot on an east London street.
He can now afford his own lodgings but still prefers to draw outdoors.
"I've captured him magnificently in that, but these little ones that I do, I basically try and capture his personality if I can in all of them," he said.
His success in part comes from a chance meeting with Richard Howard-Griffin, who runs street art tours in East London, owns a gallery there and mounted a first show of Dolan's work.
That was a hit, so now there is a second "John and George."
"I mean, John's rise has been really meteoric in the art world, it's like watching an artist's career in fast-forward — that's what a lot of artists say so his first show was a sell-out, he's got a second show now coming out which is really, really amazing," Howard-Griffin said.
"He's got a book and he's doing a show in Los Angeles and all this kind of stuff so 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."
After spending three years on the streets churning out sketch after sketch of George, Dolan is branching out with the show in Los Angeles, and also plans to make a book of drawings of rock stars with their dogs in conjunction with a dog shelter.
But he will never stray far from his four-legged friend, about whom he's also written a book, "John and George: The Dog Who Changed my Life."
"He was quite an aggressive dog and he would growl at you and he was a cat chaser and he was weary of people and when I started training him, within a month of me starting to train him, basically his personality began to change," Dolan said.
"He became a really pleasant dog."