London has long been a hotbed for all things arts related; from stage productions to musical acts, film-making to galleries and museums. But there’s another arts scene that is quickly becoming more popular amongst the jet-set crowd; street art. Created in public locations using a variety of methods, street art is an unauthorized form of artwork found outside of traditional art venues. It’s basically like an outdoor gallery with no entrance fee.
To the untrained eye, most people lump anything that’s sprayed, glued, or painted on a wall as graffiti. And while that’s not entirely false, there is a big difference between street art and graffiti. Graffiti is inward thinking; it’s ego-driven. It’s all about the artist getting his or her name out there. The most common form of graffiti is tags, a stylized word or phrase spray-painted on a wall.
But on the opposite end of the spectrum is street art. It’s outward thinking. It’s about the piece, not the artist. There’s usually a theme, a story, or a picture with a political or social commentary. It’s also about celebrating and enhancing the vibrancy of an area and it can shape a neighbourhood. Street art can take on many forms including murals, mosaic tiling, wheatpasting, and stencil and sticker art. I was once told that street art is “graffiti with a college degree” and I couldn’t agree more. The pieces will make you stop and think for a moment.
Many top street artists from around the world have contributed pieces throughout London including Kobra, Roa, C215, and, probably the most well known street artist, Bansky. Sometimes pieces are commissioned by building owners, but for the most part street artists see urban spaces as places to showcase art in an unrestricted manner. Pieces tend to be tucked down alleyways, on the side of a building, stuck to lampposts or even on door fronts. It can become a bit of a scavenger hunt to find them.
I’ve been interested in street art for the past few years exploring the scenes in New York City, Montreal, and Toronto. On a recent trip to London, I spent a day discovering pieces throughout the city since it’s one of the best cities in the world for street art.
The majority of pieces are found in London’s East End, specifically in the areas around Hoxton and Shoreditch, which is where I spent most of my time.
Before setting off for the day, I downloaded a free app from Geo Street Art called Street Art London. The app offers a map of the city with pins dropped on locations where pieces are located. You can tap each pin to see a picture of the piece and to learn the name of the artist. The app also allows you to filter your search by artist name and the home feed displays the locations of the latest pieces of street art around the city.
I really enjoyed using the app because it allowed me to explore the area at my own pace and to seek out the pieces I was most interesting in seeing. And while the app pointed me in the right direction and got me started, I came across so many more pieces that weren’t listed.
What I love most about street art is that the artwork actually becomes a secondary element to what’s really special about the scene, and that’s exploring and discovering a neighbourhood on a more grounded level.