London has as much creativity displayed across its streets as it has in its famous public galleries. In London’s streets, you can find art painted by the man known for being the first person to have painted on the Berlin Wall.
While most of us might think of graffiti as street art, some insist there is a difference between the two. Unlike the big bold letters and tags that symbolise graffiti, street art depicts more detailed work such as wall-mounts, murals, sculptures and stencil art forms. Colourful and bold, artworks range from political to provocative.
“The aim of a street artist is to put as many products out there and have many people recognise it as their work without having to ever mention one’s name,” a tour guide at the London Street Art Walking Tour explained.
The Shoreditch area in East London, once the centre of English furniture trade, is the now the hub of street art in the city. Creations varying from a few centimetres to large paintings stretched across building walls can be found at every nook or corner of this busy town as if it were an outdoor gallery of unconventional art. Most artists have unique styles that makes their works identifiable. Just a few hundred metres away from the Shoreditch train station, a huge mural of a hedgehog occupies the wall of a double storey building. This was painted in 2012 by a Belgian artist named Roa who is known for his giant black and white animal art.
Not all artists are Londoners and not all are famous. In that sense street art is a great leveller. On the streets of Shoreditch, you can discover the work of Banksy (a leading British artist) and the lesser known in the same area. Some of the international artists include a fine art student from Belgium and a French artist (named Thierry Noir) known for being the first to paint the Berlin Wall in 1984 as a sign of protest. In fact if you walk through the streets of Shoreditch area during the day you are likely to see artists in the middle of creating new images on the walls.
Most of the works are uncommissioned and thus illegal, but continue to dominate the walls, perhaps indicating an acceptance for street art’s role in portraying the area as London’s creative hub. Tour guides in the area say that new pieces of art emerge every day so there is always something new to explore. Artists routinely paint over each other’s work and whether or not one’s art stays untouched depends on how much respect the artist has earned in the community. According to the street art tour guides, no one will touch Thierry Noir’s or Banksy’s work.
Opinions remain divided on whether street art is acceptable or criminal but it is impossible to ignore its presence in contemporary visual culture.