My weekend: Roger Grove

Times Online, July 13, 2007

It’s tempting to think that his colleagues might find sitting in a meeting with Roger Grove rather unnerving. The employment lawyer – a partner with Doncaster firm Atteys – has a compulsion to express himself that does not abate even during partners’ meetings. Fortunately Grove’s need to unleash his creative energy finds expression in a habit that is wholly benign.

“I can’t stop drawing,” says the graduate in law from Hull University. “It’s been the same ever since I was a teenager. I always had a pencil in my hand, even when I was watching TV. I’ve been drawing all my life and I’ll doodle even when I’m in court as well as in the midst of a partners’ meeting. My wife finds it a bit annoying at home but it’s just something I love doing.”

Grove may describe his drawing as mere “doodling”, but he is being rather too modest. He is an accomplished caricature artist and water colourist and has appeared on Channel 4’s popular Watercolour Challenge programme. By his own admission he is a little obsessive about his predilection, but that goes with the territory with creative types and, moreover, means that come retirement Grove knows exactly what he will spend his time doing.

“I’ve got a studio at the top of the house and spend as much time as I can up there at the moment,” says the 45-year-old, “but being a partner in a law firm and having a family doesn’t give me as much time as I’d like to pursue my drawing. When I retire, I’ll devote myself to drawing and painting.” Grove is also a passionate cricket follower, who has only just given up the game. He has come up with an ambition that harnesses two of his loves. “I plan to paint a water colour of every cricket ground in Yorkshire,” he says.

The art of caricature is, though, closest to Grove’s heart. He cites a book on drawing, a mantra of which is that there are 40 opportunities to draw a day. “It’s true, there are,” says Grove. “You can refine your skills in all kinds of places and situations. I’ve drawn in fish and chip shops, cafes and on trains. People are usually bowled over when they see what I’ve drawn.” The only time that anyone has ever complained was, in fact, on a train. “I was on the way to Leeds once and started sketching this chap opposite me. He didn’t like the idea at all and had a few words. I packed it in at once.”

Clients are often delighted by Grove’s portraits. “If we’re waiting for a decision outside an employment tribunal, I’ll sketch the client, so long as he or she doesn’t mind. They’re always really enthusiastic when they see what I produce.”

Grove’s own inspiration comes from the likes of Al Hirschfeld, one of most celebrated caricaturists whose work is on permanent display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “He’s my favourite caricaturist. His renditions of Broadway stars perfectly sum up the art of caricature.” Other notable practitioners of an art whose heyday was in the 1920s and 30s include Mort Drucker, Robert Risko and David Levine. What, though, is the appeal of caricature?

The answer is hinted at in the word’s etymology. The Italian caricare means “to charge or load” and a caricature is, therefore, a “loaded portrait.” Or, as Grove puts it: “You’re trying to distil a person’s most notable features and render them in simple lines. You simplify and exaggerate at the same time in order to get to the heart of their personality – to show the truth.”

What, then, does his self-portrait caricature illustrate? Grove’s answer is, at first, deadpan. “I’m losing my hair, I’ve got prominent cheeks and I’m wearing a suit with a tie.” But then his voice quickens. “But I’m smiling, I’ve got a pen in my hand and I’m holding a sketch pad. I guess I’m a mixture of lawyer and artist.”