The London’s East End is known for several things: EastEnders, gangland, Jack the Ripper, but also for its eclectic street art collection. Some of the most famous street artists have shown their creativity there, and new pieces of graffiti art are continuously added or exchanged. Despite becoming a tourist attraction, the East End has not lost its charm, and in my opinion spending a day in this area is a must when staying in London for a few days.
The East End is a district of Central and East London, an area stretching from the medieval walls of the City of London to the northern bank of the Thames with no universally accepted boundaries. Home of the Cockney-culture, known for Jack the Ripper, the gangland, and gang wars, immigrants from Russia, Bangladesh, the Caribbean and other former parts of the Empire found their first homes there. The East End’s empty buildings and affordable rent quickly started to attract artists and free spirits.
The usual followed: nice cafés, hip bars, and weird shops, transforming the area into a hip, trendy part of London. This in turn is a magnet for others; bankers started showing their interest in the area, diggers and bulldozers are making way for upmarket apartments and office buildings, further driving up the rent. The East End is an alternative and trendy area, one of the most vibrant and exciting ones in London, full of history, interesting and weird stories, and beautiful street art.
However, there are many talented artists than just Banksy, and a tour through the London East End precisely showed us that. We signed up for one of the free graffiti and street art tours that are held daily (twice I think) where you tip the tour guide at the end if you liked it. Our tour guide was a graffiti artist himself, so he was able to tell us a lot about the different techniques and styles, the development of the art, and the political or legal issues that come with graffiti and street art, and many other things. Unfortunately, I was not able to capture all the artists’ names that we saw (way too many names with all their stories to remember within such a short amount of time) but I tried to remember some of them or look them up afterwards.
Though often used interchangeably, Graffiti and Street Art are not the same, yet it is hard to distinguish them as they are closely related art movements. Both types of work are displayed in public and not in a gallery. Graffiti predates street art, dating back to Ancient Egypt, Greek, and the Roman Empire, ranging from simple writings or more elaborate paintings on the wall. It is word-based, mostly self-taught, a type of self-expression expressed in inner city neighborhoods. Graffiti ‘tags’ are personal brandings by the artists. This art form is (mostly) illegal which gives it its edge. There are several forms of graffiti, such as gang, tagger, conventional, or ideological graffiti.
Street art on the other hand is sometimes done by people who received formal training, is image-based with the streets as their canvas, and sometimes with an overarching message for the public. Usually street art is commissioned or painted with a permission. Then there is also Graffiti Art, which apparently combines the two. Street art used to be viewed as ‘graffiti’s friendlier but equally filthy younger sibling’ (according to the Guardian). Artists such as Banksy made street art universally known and appreciated or admired by many, making it a form of (mainstream) art that is now a desired choice for edgy investment.
What was really cool was that not only did our tour guide tell us things about street art, but also things about the area that we were in and he lead us to the Nomadic Community Garden that was full of art pieces. It is always great to see a colourful, wild garden within a busy metropole such as London. This community garden is part of a project that offers partnerships between landowners (mostly companies) and the local community, as spaces left uncultivated due to factors such as waiting period for building permissions are used in the meantime for community projects such as urban gardening thus enhancing the area and promoting healthy living.
The ones that impressed me the most and that I just liked a lot were definitely Shok-1, who spraypaints very unique X-rays, and Airborne Mark with his origami art (the last two pictures). So if you admire street art and are interested in seeing some in London, why not go on a tour? Or if you are not interested in a guided one, you can just stroll around and look for art yourself?