So obviously there are loads of things to do in London, and what you enjoy doing might now have anything to do with what we enjoy doing. However, there is one thing that we would genuinely recommend you to look into if you’re planning a trip to London. And that is to sign up for one of the award-winning guided walks with Alternative London!
Whether you’re interested in street art or if you just want to get away from the madding crowds around the usual tourist hotspots and see a bit more of real and local London, this will be well worth spending a couple of hours on. You’ll love it even more if you’re into learning quirky details and a bit of history of the streets you wander through, and you will definitely see a side to London that’s not depicted on postcards.
Depending on the type of tour you chose to sign up for (and yes you do need to sign up online at least a couple of weeks before you’re planning to go), they take you for guided walks or cycle trips around Shoreditch area in East London. This area is known for its massive presence of amazing street art. The guides are sincerely interested in what they’re showing you, they are brilliant entertainers, and have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the history of street art, the techniques used, the worldwide street art scene, the art of this specific area, as well as history on how the East London area developed into what it is today.
They will teach you how to notice what is around you, and you will afterwards find yourself spotting street art wherever you go. The coolest thing is that you can go on these walks again and again and still see new things. We have done 4 walks with them (yup, big fans as you can hear) and we discover new things, facts, and artworks in the area every time we go out.
The street art scene is constantly changing as artworks are painted over with new artworks. Also the different guides all have different details and artists they’re passionate about so you are guaranteed to hear and see new things when you head out with them. We have composed a small introduction of what we have seen on some of our walks around Shoreditch this summer.
One of the first things we saw on our latest walk was the Chewing Gum Artist…. Ben Wilson was born in Cambridge into an artist family and has made it into an art form to paint tiny paintings on chewing gum stuck to the streets. Apparently he caught the attention of the authorities, but has been found breaking no law as he is merely painting on rubbish on the streets.
Just to give you an idea of some of his other art works, here is a small gallery of images found online. His paintings allegedly takes around 4 hours to make and is covered by a lacquer which allows it to stay on the pavement for years before it is eventually rubbed off.
Or murals like this – again an entire building has been covered by this painting, and the details are just incredible! Another artist worth noticing when walking around is Jonesy. Similar to Ben Wilson, The Chewing Gum artist, you need to be quite awake to spot a Jonesy piece. His artworks are small bronze sculptures, which are either attached to walls like small plaques or to the top of light poles or street signs. Apparently the small angel below has been made of actual wings from a dead dove… And we found another fabulous piece by him in Bow (still East London but further out) during a cycle trip the other day – check it our on our Instagram Blog here.
Another form of art installations that you’ll see in East London are these faces made by Gregos. Gregos is a French artist born in 1972, currently living in Paris. He does mask casts from his own face and paints them before they’re glued to the walls as small self portraits, expressing the humour of the day, his past, present, and future. Apparently he has made more than 1000 masks of which most are in Paris, but now also quite a few in London.
As you can see on the colourful rainbow-like Gregos portrait above, his face is right next to another type of Street art. Art painted onto street signs. These particular ones are made by the French Clet Abraham who is hacking street signs all across Europe and that way makes your usual commute a bit more humorous. Below is another version of Clet’s art from Brick Lane.
Stencils are another great form of art which are, once they’re made, quite quick to apply around town. Made by cutting your image out from paper or cardboard and then holding that to the wall, while spray painting. This allows paint to only go through the areas that has been cut out, leaving a sharp-edged picture on the wall. For the more skilled artists several layers will be used to create shades, colours, and depth in the pictures. Below is a selection of Stencils found in Shoreditch, some of them more complex than others.
Below is Borderless Tales attempt to do stencils during a street art walk which ended in a workshop session. The white stencils are ours… Rif felt he had to do a cock to follow in the foot steps of many a beginners street artist.
London is often visited by world known street artists and here is a small collection of the pieces of some very famous people. Below we’ve spotted some made by Cranio, a guy from Sao Paolo in Brazil, who makes these fabulous little tribal looking men in all kinds of funny situations.
Another big artist, who has gifted East London with a few paintings, is the Belgian artist Roa who normally paints in black, white and grey tones. When he was a kid he thought he would become an archeologist and collect little animal skulls. This fascination and passion for animals is seen in his murals today and he usually paints animals significant to the area in which the painting is done. The bird below from Brick Lane was chosen as this specific street is in a Bangla area, inhabited largely by people mainly from the Sylhet region of Bangladesh. The bird is apparently a very common bird in the wild in the Bangladeshi Sylhet region. Roa wanted the locals to recognise the animal as something familiar from home.
Below is one of our personal favourites; Borondo. A 24-year-old Spanish guy who simply does amazing paintings. Should you be inspired to browse the internet to research what else he has done, we are sure you’ll agree that he is a different league of artist. We have no doubt he will one day be exhibited in art museums around the world, together with some of the greatest artists known in history. We were lucky enough to also randomly come across one of his paintings on a trip to Rome, which we have posted here on our Instagram Blog. Below is a Shoreditch version of his “white paint on windows” type paintings, where the artwork has not been painted ON but scratched OFF a surface of white paint. And further down a large mural done by Borondo. Extremely talented artist, can’t believe how lucky we are to have his paintings hanging in our streets to be enjoyed for free.
The street art scene in East London is quite diverse and below we have a small gallery with different fabulous examples of some of the street art we have located in the area this summer…
But street Art can also be fairly simple, and still be really cool. Like the pieces done by Stik who is known for painting stick men. See one of his pieces below but also check out the lovely simple painting, which has quite an important message of love and tolerance, on our Instagram Blog here – posted directly from one of the walks we have recently been on. Banksy, who everyone has probably heard about, has also left this mark in East London. The piece we saw has been covered by a plastic wall by the bar who owns the wall so it can’t be painted over, or stolen for that matter. All street artists paint their art works knowing that it may be covered by a new painting tomorrow. However, because of the plastic wall covering this Banksy, it has been left alone for ten years, somehow giving it special status. Whether this is fair or not is a different matter.
Notice the stencil on the right of the painting. The story goes that Banksy put this on a wall just opposite a police station. Because it looked like it was an official stamp made by the “National Highways Agency”, which by the way doesn’t even exist in the UK, people thought it was OK to tag and paint graffiti on the wall. Even the police did not ask any questions as everyone confused Banksy’s stamp allowing graffiti with a legal stamp of the “National Highway Authority”.
But street art can also just be tags, this little metal bird, small things glued to the wall like this LEGO christmas tree, or the small posters and cut outs.
Here the wall has been “tagged” but in a more humorous way… And here the artist Invader did this Star Wars ceramic tile artwork in broad daylight by simply making it look like he was allowed to be there. Apparently he borrowed a hydraulic scissor lift and set up during daylight with road cones and everything. A friend standing on the street in a high visible vest is said to have stopped the police car, holding them back for a few minutes, to make it look as “legal” as possible. And you will find proper paintings like this one below. Stunning picture of a mother breastfeeding her baby, with a text saying FREE breastfeeding. We are not sure who made this picture but it is so well made, please do jot us a line in the comments below of this post if you know the artist. We would love to follow of his or her work.
As you may have noticed there are people tagging on massively well-known artist’s work and beautifully made paintings and that is just the name of the game. No one’s art is sacred (unless you’re Banksy and the people who owns the wall you’ve painted on decides to go and save your piece by covering it up, or even worse taking it down and selling it). Below is an example where a stencil has been marked with a pair of red pants.
There are as many ways of doing street art as there are people. Check out the technique on the painting below. Spray painted so that it’s difficult to see what it really is when you’re up close. Only when you step back you get a proper idea of the greatness of the painting.
Or this one, that has been made from lots of little dots. We recently found a similar one in Brixton, a very colourful painting of David Bowie also made from lots of small dots. You can check that out on our Instagram Blog as well.
The one below has been made in a special technique where you hold the spray can in the same distance to the wall all the way through the movement, and spray in long equal and steady lines. These lines then breathe life to the painting and creates a feeling of depth and layers. Below image is the Shoreditch Cowboy made by El Mac. It is sadly due to be removed as the building it is painted on is in the process of being demolished for a new office or luxury flat block to go up.
The amazing piece below is an artwork by the artist Nhils. He would have been permitted to make this as it would have taken several days to prepare. A paste is smothered onto the wall, then left to dry after which the surface has been chiselled off to create a portrait. Absolutely breathtaking.
Unfortunately lots of the streets of East London are changing and new buildings coming up which will eventually change the entire area and kill the diverse charm it has now. As with the El Mac “Shoreditch Cowboy” mentioned earlier in the post, building sites are shooting up everywhere, taking down old buildings to make room for new offices and luxury apartments. This is slowly but surely making sure the usual local community won’t be able to afford buying homes in the area. True gentrification of the city.
Below is one of these building sites where people have been allowed to paint on the fence protecting the area during construction. This obviously makes it easier for all types of people to have a go at being creative, which is nice. However people fail to realise that these, at the moment, colourful and lovely painted fences will all one day be taken down and new office buildings will be opened, leaving the area looking the same as the rest of London.
Should you want to go and check it all out, as mentioned, we REALLY recommend you to go for a walk with www.alternativeldn.co.uk. Tours are on a pay-what-you-like-basis, you just leave a tip for the guide at the end of the trip. However, it’s definitely worth paying them well so they can continue their work and show people these lovely off-the-beaten-track places of London.
Visited Summer 2015