Now I’m not the most artsy or cultured person out there despite my job, but one thing I’ve started to really appreciate while travelling is street art – which is a rather loose term used to apply to any type of art found in the streets. There are no boundaries (usually), nor restrictions about getting up close and personal with a street art work – that makes it feel more personal and relatable somehow, and the good ones usually make great use of the environment they are in to provoke you into a smile or thoughtfulness.
Street art is also something travellers seem to love – one of my more popular posts here on The Occasional Traveller is this one on where to find street art in Penang’s George Town, so I knew that when I came up to London for the arts, I had to make some time to check out the London street art scene too.
Who knows if this street artist is famous or not? Whatever the case, seeing this funny penguin under the bridge near our hotel every day made me smile a little.
The street art scene here is thriving, and while some of it is still illegal work and rather unsightly tagging and vandalism, there are a lot of beautiful murals and street artworks, some of which are specially commissioned by building owners and it really does a lot to brighten up the area. London’s East End, or the Shoreditch area, is home to streets full of creativity.
I decided to take a street art walking tour and workshop with Alternative London to find out a little more about the art and artists, though you can really just wander around on your own and chance upon awesome. More on the tour and workshop right at the bottom of this post…
We saw quite a lot of artworks in just 2 hours of walking, but I thought I’d highlight some of my favourites which I think you shouldn’t miss. Also, trust me when I say it’s different seeing these works in my blog and experiencing them in person and, and it was definitely helpful having someone who knows the scene tell you their stories.
If the guy in the grey shirt appears a lot, that’s Andres my Alternative London guide who talked himself hoarse about all these amazing street artists, and I thought having a person in the photo provided a useful scale to show how large some of these artworks really are!
HANBURY STREET (off Brick Lane): The breakdancing Beefeater on the left is by Argentine street artist Martin Ron (instagram @martinronmurales) and the bird (stork?) on the right is by Belgian street artist Roa who does these amazing textured and detailed animal drawings. I actually saw this on a separate day when visiting Brick Lane
RAVEY STREET (off Great Eastern Street) So apparently I caught Roa in action but had no idea who he was at the time! Check out the flea he was working on – I can’t believe all that is achieved with just a spray can!
RIVINGTON STREET / Cargo: This Banksy work protected by a piece of perspex is right at the entrance of the nightspot Cargo, and there’s actually a whole bunch of street art work inside the place. Banksy’s HMV dog work can also be found inside here
RIVINGTON STREET / Bedroom Bar: These blue men are creations of Brazilian street artist Fabio Oliveira aka Cranio (instagram @cranioartes) and are commentaries on how contemporary problems affect the old way of life as represented by the blue indigenous people that he draws.
RIVINGTON STREET (Piano Man): Local street artist Stik is probably the best example that you don’t necessarily need to be a super talented street artist to stand out or make a statement. His stick-men are very basic figures, but there’s something about their manner that makes them unique. These slightly awkward mouthless figures represent the homeless and voiceless, a situation which the artist was once in himself
LEONARD STREET: Stik makes another appearance here, this time is kinda cute though as he looks like he’s got the pulley rope in his hands! Sadly, I found out that this place has just been torn down to make way for a luxury hotel, which is really sad because there were loads of other amazing works along this entire stretch, boo. Next to Stik in thix picture is a Melbournian street artist called Rone (instagram @ r_o_n_e) who does lots of glamorous lady headshots
LEONARD STREET: London You Beast is by Faith47, (instagram @faithfortyseven) a South African street artist who is the wife of a fellow street artist just below…
DEREHAM PLACE: I adore this work (the DALeast London Dare #3, part of a commissioned series) and this Chinese-born but living in South Africa artist DALeast (instagram @daleast) – this is probably my favourite of the street art works that I saw and my picture does it no justice. This guys just puts these swirly lines together to create the most beautiful pictures – he draws a lot of animals, and this particular one features a sprinting leopard splitting apart to reveal a scuba diver of all things in the middle. Absolutely mindblowingly beautiful work. Better pix here.
BATEMAN’S ROW: If the symbol in the corner looks familiar, that’s because it’s done by the guy who created the whole OBEY campaign featuring Andre the Giant, Shepard Fairey (instagram @obeygiant), whose also better known as the dude who created Obama’s very iconic Hope campaign poster! His background was in graphic design.
VARIOUS LOCATIONS: Look around the city and you might spot these shrooms popping up all over, they are the works of Christiaan Nagel (instagram @christiaannagel) who makes them out of polyurethane and sticks them up just about everywhere in all colours and sizes! I love that they are so random…
HEWETT STREET: Vhils or Alexandre Farto is a Portuguese street artist based in Lisbon whose street art creation is pretty unique – he plasters up a wall and then takes a jackhammer to it, which is how he created this amazing artwork above. Now he’s really into little demolitions, and the videos on his website show a fascinating creation process!
HEWETT STREET: Un Campechano en Londres: This artwork by LA street artist Elmac or Miles MacGregor (instagram @mac_arte) is also another favourite for the sheer beauty and technique. This guy was just passing through London, painted for less than a full day, then got right back on the train again. Amazing work. See his blog for more details about him painting this piece. He apparently did a work in Singapore back in 2010!! Wonder whether it’s still there? Time to go looking!
RIVINGTON STREET / DEREHAM PLACE: Thierry Noir (instagram @thierrynoir) is a pretty old guy now, and he’d have to be because this French artist’s claim to fame was being the first artist to paint on the Berlin wall! The story is he got so fed up with the wall that despite possibly facing some serious consequences, he decided to paint the Berlin Wall to make it look a little ridiculous. A retrospective on his work was quite recently put up in the Howard Griffin Gallery.
VARIOUS PLACES – EINE (instagram @einesigns) or Ben Flynn is a little obsessive about letters and typography, and his signature is these very large, colourful graphic letters that he especially likes to paint on shop shutters. He’s done some amazing work, and one of his posters was actually given by David Cameron to Barack Obama, so he’s got the honour of being the first street artist to have his works displayed in the White House!
MY TURN TO BE BE A STREET ARTIST
So after a rather eventful morning walking around Shoreditch admiring street art and getting rained on, we took a short break for lunch before coming back to the Alternative London HQ in the turquoise double decker bus for the workshop part of the tour. We weren’t going to be anything too fancy, basically just learn to create our own stencils and get to spray paint them with aerosol cans… just like the pros!
Time to go crazy!
I’m not the most creative, so in the short time we had to ponder, I turned to my faithful paper airplane – you will recognize this from the blog’s logo! Andres helped me to figure out that I actually needed to do a 2-layer stencil and how to cut out the right shapes. You think it would be easy to envision, but no, apparently I do not have the spatial ability to see layers of shapes. At least I cut the stencils out right~
Creating street art the stencil (aka the Banksy) way – draw your design, cut out the stencils, use the spray paints and you’re ready to go!
After we were done cutting, we trooped outside to graffiti covered walls where we were given aerosol cans of various colours, some stenciling tools and after a brief demonstration, let loose to create! We had the option to pay an additional 3 pounds to get a tote bag to spray paint our design on if we wanted to bring it back with us, which is a nice souvenir for yourself!
(If mine is looking a bit blotchy, I blame the stencil covered with purple paint that I didn’t realize was still wet T_T think of it as… artistic~)
Me and Andres of the Alternative London tour, thanks for the informative tour and suggestions with the stenciling! (spot my practice sprays in the background?)
Overall I really enjoyed myself and learned quite a lot with Alternative London, so I would recommend checking them out if you want a primer on the street art scene in Shoreditch, before walking around on your own. The tour+workshop that I joined cost 25 pounds (add 3 pounds for the tote bag), and if you’re on a budget, their walking tour is pay-as-you-want, but don’t stiff the guides because they really do a good job! Spaces do fill up quickly so don’t dither too long – the walking tour was fully booked about a week before.
Look for the big blue bus on Rivington Street. Alternatively, look for the Red Gallery which is just next door. The Red Market had also just opened when I was there
There are several other street art tours and workshops run by other companies, so look around and see what works for you. If not, Inspiring City has a pretty good self-guided walk you can follow.
Looking for more street art? Check out my full list of street art guides from around the world, including this one of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. I also have a ton of posts about things to do in London if you need a break from street art hunting.
What are you favourite street art finds in London? Share them here!