“Where shall I go if I want to see some art in London?”
I remember being asked this question by a traveller friend visiting London.
If you open the travel guides, you’ll probably be pointed towards galleries like Tate Modern and National Gallery. I’m not attempting to criticise the art in these places. However, my advise will always be…
“Take your camera and head to Shoreditch – discover some new street art”
Why discover? Well, not every piece of street art is as obvious to the eye as you might think…
You’ve got three options for discovering street art, each with different costs:
The instructions were to meet at Old Street tube station on Saturday for 11:00. With around 20 other people Karim introduced himself and asked the group the kind of street art they were expecting to see. After standing for several minutes discussing, he pointed down to the floor in front of him (and us) and said:
“The first piece of street art is here”
Below us was a piece of chewing gum on the floor, painted by an artist called Ben Wilson.
Turns out, this guy has 1000s of these throughout London, taking advantage of a legal loophole of painting on the discarded gum rather than public property.
“No way!”, I muttered, “How had we not even seen this?”
As time went on and the group were whisked around from place to place. Mushrooms on top of buildings, masterpieces around inconspicuous corners – we were never more than twenty steps from the next piece.
I came to realise just how expert our guide, Karim, really was. He wasn’t just there to point out a famous Banksy. Instead, he could tell us whether any of the art we saw was “permissioned”, how the particular artist started, operated and fundamentally makes them unique.
When your guide knows and shows you all the new street art from the night before, you know you’re getting something unique.
At lunch I saw him uploading a shot of a new piece from his phone. This guy was the definitive fountain of knowledge of street art in this area. The discrete spots of paint on his backpack was more than just a clue to his involvement in the community. He knew and greeted a handful of artists en route.
Another favourite piece I had the pleasure of seeing was a wall from Vhils. From afar, it looks like a painting of a face. Get closer and you realise just how wrong you can be. Vhils, a student from the University of Arts London, didn’t use any paint. Instead, he created this piece by first plastering over a wall. Then, taking carefully placed explosives and a hammer drill, carved out various tones and levels in the wall.
I learned how artists freeze air canisters to give a precise spray, others who used rollers on sticks to create “vertical” aligned effects and how some pieces are actually combinations of well known and emerging artists fighting for turf and exposure. You’ll see examples of these in the photos below.
Although I highly recommend Street Arts London to take me around again, the only thing I can guarantee is that each time is bound to different.