On Saturday I went on a London Street Art tour around the backstreets of über trendy East London with the most knowledgeable guide, Rob Humphreys. I was invited by Touriocity a group of really enthusiastic travel industry experts who are passionate about creating bespoke tours around our favourite cities in the world offering travellers a more personalised and enriching experience.
What is a Touriocity tour?
Touriocity have contacts with the most knowledgeable guides in every city; guides or Travel Concierge as they are called, who don’t simply reel off facts but add to the tour with their extensive and fascinating knowledge. Tours include everything from sport tours, art tours, regular tours or maybe a deep dive into the hidden part of town. Touriocity can arrange a bespoke tour to suit you and your interests.
London Street Art tour
Probably the most fascinating tour I’ve ever been on. I took over 170 photos on my day out and I’ll be uploading the best of them to my Facebook page for those who’d like to read/see more but for now I’m going to have to condense all of that into a post for you. I want to give you the perfect idea of what a London Street Art tour is. I want to inspire you to go on one as I was totally blown away by my experience.
What is Street Art?
Street art is any art developed in public spaces. The term can include traditional graffiti art work, as well as, stencil graffiti, sticker art, wheatpasting and street poster art, video projection, art intervention, guerrilla art, flash mobbing and street installations. — Google
Street art is anything painted, written or drawn illegally on outside public spaces, also known as vandalism. Street art actually is a whole lot more than that, it is a conversation between like minded artists. It is transient, here today and gone tomorrow. I have understood that the longer your ‘work’ survives without being pasted over, written on and in turn graffiti’ed, the more respected you have from your fellow artists.
Street art is complex, starting with the terminology. The first term I came across was tag or tagging and it was right at the start of our day when we’d barely left Old Street tube station. A tag is the signature you often see sprayed on public buildings, the one you have thought was a ‘mess’ and ruining the environment. It is a mess, it’s like an unreadable scribble on a public wall but to the eyes of street artists, it’s a signature.
What happens when walls of our buildings are attacked by graffiti artists? We send someone in to buff them. That would be scrub them away or cover them in paint. Just try to return the wall to it’s former clean glory.
Trouble is, no matter how hard they try to clean them up, you can always see a trace. Some street artists enjoy this and for a funny example take a look at Huh Magazine at when MOBSTR tried an experiment on the local authoritites. I must admit I did find this highly amusing.
Street art includes many forms, it is more than just cans of aerosol used to make funky signatures. There is stencil art, there is wheatpasting art, scultpures, lock on and tiling. All varied ways that street artists leave their marks on walls around the world.
In fact this phenomenon, with the helps of artists like Shepard Fairy, Stik and Banksy became acceptable. Their work was displayed in galleries and snapped up for millions of dollars. If Banksy put up a new piece there would be a rush to chip it away and sell it. In fact it became so trendy David Cameron gave a Ben Eine piece to Barack Obama on one of their first meetings.
You may even remember a poster used during the Obama campaign, it was created by a well known street artist Shepard Fairey. He depicted Obama with the word Hope and it was used on the cover of Time magazine. He also created this art work in London (above) which we stopped by to admire, read more on Hooked Blog about the making.
This trend in buying up street art has in turned added a legalised aspect to what was vandalism up until recently. Now there are businesses commissioning work to street artists, having their factories, shops, clubs, restaurants graffiti’ed, with fantastic effect too.
London has become one of the most pro-graffiti cities in the world and a trip around Shoreditch will show you how well this art form can fit into a busy city, the only problem of course is that as London Street Art tours bring in the punters and money is being spent so is the area becoming more in and trendy, old buildings are being knocked down and swanky new ones are going up which will lead to ‘clean’ streets and less street art.
Street artists don’t stick to one city either, they travel between countries to spread their work. Some artists have gained cult-followings, media and art world attention. There are some top artists displaying work in London from all over the world.
Some of the world’s top Street artists have passed through London and here is a selection of a few around the Shoreditch area.
Tips for following a London Street Art tour
Allow at least the morning to walk the streets of Shoreditch. The area is vast and continually changing
Look up, look down, look around you, street art is everywhere. Note the mushrooms on the rooftops, the face sculptures inside door crevices and chewing gum art on the pavement. You can even see graffiti inside other graffiti and so the artwork changes and moves on.
Stop off at Cargo for a coffee and admire some of Banksy’s famous artwork.
Street Art to look out for in Shoreditch:
Foundry Building, Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3JL. – Roa’s giant, moody weasel on the doomed Foundry building in Shoreditch.
Tramshed, 32 Rivington St, EC2A 3LX – Mark Hix’s chicken and steak restaurant. Inside and you will find a Damien Hirst cow and chicken in formaldehyde.
Turn the corner onto Garden Walk and you will find the Owl and Black Sabbath lyrics by Dscreet.
Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3NT – JXC’s Morgan Freeman caricature.
Derham Place, EC2A 3HJ. – DALeast’s sprinting leopard splitting apart to reveal a scuba diver in the middle.
Bateman’s Row, EC2A 3HH. – Shepard Fairey, graphic designer and creator of Obama’s iconic Hope campaign poster back in 2008.
Rivington Street, EC2A 3LX – The Piano Man by local street artist Stik.
Cargo Club – Banksy’s Police and Dog and other murals by very talented street artists.
Blackall Street, EC2A. – Alleyway just off Great Eastern Street. Here you will find work from some of the greats, including RUN, Swoon, Alice Pasquini, D7606, Dscreet ,Stik, Pablo Delgado, and Rowdy.
Disclosure: I was invited on the London Street Art tour by Touriocity for the purpose of this post, all opinions are my own.