Sometimes, when we’re caught up with work/deadlines/stress/life we can forget to stop and appreciate the wonders that are right there on our doorstep. I’m the first to hold my hands up to this. That’s why, after spending years as a journalist rushing about, feeling constantly ‘busy’, tired and stressed – sleepwalking through days and often zoning out in front of the TV at night – part of my mission to slow down, reboot and reawaken my senses is to rediscover London.
My challenge to myself going forward is to approach the Big Smoke with the same curiosity and wonder as I would a city I was visiting for the first time. To put things into context, I’ve lived in London for 25 of my 31 years (excluding an awesome six-year stint in Brighton), but if I’m honest, much of that time has been spent inside my own head. Which is a shame, because while it’s a big, crowded and sometimes suffocating city, those who stop and pay attention will find that London is also oozing with culture, history and creativity.
With that in mind, last Saturday I signed myself up for the Shoreditch Street Art Tour. As a Londoner, I’ve visited Shoreditch a few times, but it’s not an area I know well. When I said this to Dave, our guide for the morning, he replied, “you’ll be back!” – and he was so right. After embarking on a leisurely three hour walk around Brick Lane, Shoreditch High Street, and the back streets in between, I was hooked.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that every street has some kind of artwork to enjoy. A combination of cheap rents (well, at one time apparently!), the rise of Banksy, who put on his first unofficial show in Shoreditch (see below), a greater tolerance to street art from the community than you’ll typically find elsewhere and a growing market for their wares has seen artists flock to the area. It’s now largely recognised as “the spiritual home of street art”, attracting talent from all over the world.
Over the course of three hours, we uncovered pieces by some of the world’s best known street artists, including Rondo, Eine, Borondo, Otto Schade, Jonesy, Banksy and more. We even stumbled upon Portuguese artist Furia in the process of creating a piece!
Here’s a look at some of the incredible artwork we saw:
Street art by Otto Schade
Artwork by Dan Kitchener on Brick Lane, East London
Artwork by Stik and Otto Schade on Princelet Street, Brick Lane, East London
Artwork by Mr Cenz in Brick Lane, London
A collaboration between Borondo and Alexis Diaz, Brick Lane, London
How to build a universe by Jonesy in Brick Lane, London
Artwork by E.L.K in Shoreditch, London
Artwork by C215 in Shoreditch, London
Jimmy C tribute to Trayvon Martin in Shoreditch, London
Street art by Banksy in Shoreditch, London
And here are a few key things I took away from the experience:
- I learned to take more notice of things. Dave pointed out several small, beautiful pieces of artwork that I may well have never noticed if I was just going about my day, whether hidden away on the back streets, on street signs, on lampposts or blended into their surroundings. As he explained, often artists do this on purpose – it’s a reward for exploring, remaining curious and present, and paying attention to the world around you.
- Sometimes you need to build your own door. Dave told a great story about how Banksy got started, under a bridge in Shoreditch. He pulled up in a van, created 12 of his now world famous stencil artworks on the wall, then opened up his van and started dishing out free beers – a surefire way to get passers by to stop and take notice! In this way, a relative newcomer essentially created his own unofficial solo show – something that typically takes artists years to achieve in a gallery. The stunt also created a buzz and excitement which helped to catapult his reputation and success. Of course, what he did is not exactly legal and I’m not suggesting you should go ahead and break the law, but it’s still a nice reminder that just because something’s always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s the only (or best) way of doing it!
- Street art is transient and temporary, and that’s OK. While a few very well known pieces are now permanent fixtures (Banksy’s work typically gets covered with perspex, for example), generally speaking once your art is out in the world, you can’t control what happens to it, or stop someone painting over it. While there’s something inherently sad about this, it’s also part of the allure of the medium for both viewers and artists alike. If you were to go on the same tour next week, there’s no guarantee you’d see all the same pieces we saw. But then again, you’d probably see some awesome new work that doesn’t exist today.
Whether you’re just visiting the capital or a born and bred Londoner, I would recommend this tour. Dave is knowledgeable, takes the time to set the scene and helps you recognise artists’ signature styles so you can spot their work going forwards. In a nutshell: a great way to spend a morning.
(In case you were wondering, this post wasn’t sponsored or supported in any way. I booked myself on the tour as anyone would!)