Beyond Buckingham Palace: Discovering The Creativity And Culture Of London Street Art
It was when traveling through Israel and Palestine that I became fascinated by street art. There was a story to the images and a message that the writing; found on buildings, broken walls, and rubble told. It asked for social change or brightened up a street. It begged a passerby to take one more moment to think about where he or she was and contemplate what was being witnessed.
This new interest in street art, an aspect of a city that was once deemed negatively, is influencing my layover life in cities like San Francisco, New York, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and most notably London.
I never liked London upon initial introduction or even after six or more visits, but now, I find myself in a full-on love affair with the outwardly cold and often overwhelming British gem. London holds a rightfully given reputation of being one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in and to visit, but when venturing beyond Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey, there is much to be discovered, much to be loved, and much to be left untouched in one's pocketbook. The awe of the main monuments and tourist must-sees is undeniable and unchanging, but the interest and ever changing appearance of London's streets is where the true life, heart, and culture of the city can be felt and found.
The burrows of Shoreditch and the once-dodgy Brixton are coming alive with pop-up shops, container parks, and unique images that dot corners, alleyways and main thoroughfares. Shoreditch, known for its Brooklyn-esque creativity and start-up culture, draws a diverse mix of individuals; those with both a comfortable amount of disposable income as well as the more cash-strapped traveller. The eclectic and non-stuffy neighborhood is where to find some of London's best coffee shops, cafes, and street art.
Curious about London's street art, I searched out a free street art tour, hoping that it would give me a basic understanding of the Shoreditch area and background of London's graffiti scene. On a London-style sunny afternoon, a group of about 15 people followed Gregory, a graffiti writer himself, as he explained the culture, background, and future of the art and the artist's career's noticed around this certain area of the city.
"Graffiti," a medium that is exploding as one of the fastest growing art-forms in the world is no longer considered "a criminal act," although it is still illegal. Many of the famous graffiti artists own galleries and the best are commissioned by large companies or city officials to add life and "photo moments" to streets, buildings, and brands.
The talent of the writers is undeniable, many of which have been professionally trained at University. That alone would not make an artist stand-out though, as the best graffiti writers are innovative, spend years perfecting their craft, and take the time to find a style that is uniquely their own.
Street art is constantly changing and what is tagged on a brick wall one month could be, and probably will be different the next. You will always need to venture back to places you have been time-and-time again, because there will always be new talent to see and new art to enjoy.
I have the privilege of traveling to London almost every other week, so the next time I step-out into Shoreditch it will be sans tour. I recommend both a tour and exploring alone if you do have the time. The tour is a really beneficial first introduction to the street art scene in London as it shares a sub-culture that is somewhat hard to learn about via Google (trust me. I know this from writing this article). A local guide will be able to answer any questions you may have, and it will make the streets and neighborhood of a new place feel less intimidating the next time around.
Gregory's Tour Company- Subculture Tours
A few street Artists