Avoiding the tube strikes was a minor miracle, avoiding the floods was other worldly. We could not escape the wind and rain however, and so upon exiting Liverpool Street station it was hold onto your hats, umbrellas and any other lose items you may have on your person at the time. Ah springtime in London, gloriously miserable and wet as ever. But, that was not to be the theme of our day, so as much as we could, we pushed aside feelings of cold and sodden socks, and replaced them with creative thoughts, and appreciation for the artistic plus those who dare to be a little bit different. The day’s theme was art, street art, east London street art … but you probably knew that because it was in the title of the post.
Street Art and why London
The Telegraph calls street art a ‘global tourism force’ and outlines how there are specialist street art tours all across the globe. It goes further to highlight street art tours in Berlin, Paris, New York and Melbourne specifically, and also points out that there are more than 10 different London tours to pick from. But why did these artists decide on the streets of London as one of their favourite canvases? Well, the story goes that in the 80’s a plethora of artists were attracted to the east end of London due to the large number of warehouse spaces available at super cheap rates. We’re talking unbelievably cheap here, say £20 a month to rent a warehouse space, which you could exhibit or/and sleep in depending upon you needs and requirements. That was in the the 70’s mind, when the area was rundown and only just starting out as a creative hub and community. Nowadays of course the rent is just a tad more expensive, but it is still the place to be and be seen if you are of an artistic nature … or if you fancy a curry.
Our London Street Art tour
Our tour started actually outside Shoreditch Station, a short walk from Liverpool Street. To a backdrop of a 5 a side football setup our guide for the day Frankie first pointed us in the direction of a number of love locks attached to the outside fencing. They were pretty, but in all honesty just didn’t quite appear to have the same strength of meaning as those attached to the bridges straddling the river Seine in Paris and their keys thrown into the waters below. Keys thrown onto a football pitch just isn’t the same in my eyes, less romantic more dangerous if anything. Admittedly some couples and lovers were slightly more considerate of the replica shirt clad players, opting for a combination lock instead, although what that says about the love between them I’m not entirely sure. Awkward!?
That was all pretty negative of me, sorry. Taking this tour only a few days after valentines day, I should still had been in a midst of romantic thought and gesture, sadly one of the artworks below sucked that pool dry in almost an instant … can you guess which one?
Frankie (our guide) was a cool fellow from the north of England who also had a love of travel. Entertaining throughout, I thought he did a splendid job in not only showing us some incredible works of art, but also in honing his accent so even those to whom English was not a first language could comfortably understand his explanations and witty banter. Here he is …
As we took our first steps away from the love locks of Shoreditch station, Frankie ran us through the basics of street art, explaining the origins of street art both internationally and domestic, why east London was popular among artists, running us quickly through a few of the different styles and then listing just a few of the big players within the London scene. It was a crash course to an extent, but it didn’t feel overly rushed and a solid understanding was gained by most in just a short space of time. Of all the styles that Frankie reeled off – stencil, wildstyle, blockbuster, mural, bubble, tag, throw ups, wheat paste, installation and posters – we were lucky enough to come across at least one example of most over the next 2 hours. Here’s a selection of my faves and a brief bit of info on their creators.
Frank Shepard Fairey
An American contemporary street artist, Fairy is famously known for lending his artistic talents to the Obama 2008 presidential campaign. Obviously the campaign was a success, and upon being voted into the white house, Obama sent Fairey a personal letter of thanks. An earlier project involving a print of legendary wrestler Andre the Giant spawned the now famous clothing label Obey.
A London based street artist who works with big letters. Real name Ben Flynn, he was previously a famous underground writer and is well known for having teamed up with Bansky in the past – Eine giving Banksy access to the underground scene and Banksy returning the favour by helping Eine access the commercial world.
Another London based artist, with his name very much representative of his style. Like Banksy, Stik is very private and guards his identity, but we do know that he once spent a time living on the streets of London, and for a time within St Mungo’s hostel for the homeless. Stik recognises that period in his life as massively influential and as a result has collaborated with organisations such as Amnesty International and The Big Issue – he is once said to have gavin away pieces of his work hidden between the pages of select copies of The Big Issue.
Now he sells work to the rich and famous. Customers include Sir Elton John, Bono and Brian May among others.
[Video] Stik | On The Streets
Another who keeps their identity a closely guarded secret. The US born artist who spent some time living in Paris was probably always destined for artistic greatness, what with both of his parents artists themselves. Through their influence, and that of the skate scene, Above found himself tagging from the age of 16 with the letters A-B-O-V-E. His move to Paris however saw a change and instead of painting the letters, the arrow symbol became his trademark. Now living back in the US, he more often than not trends to create works with strong social and political political meaning.
[Video] Street Art with Above
UK born, but living rough on the streets of Australia at the age of 16 having lost his mother in a tragic car accident, Cochran is an artist who has developed his own incredible drip painting style. Now working under the name Jimmy C, Cochran has exhibited his work all over the world, starting out in his native Australia in the 80’s, before then branching out into France and China specifically.
Real name Jim Rockwell and hailing Barry Island in Wales (inset own Gavin and Stacey joke here), Jim Vision makes up a part of the east London collective known as ‘End of the line’. The collective are best known for providing large scale murals, interior design, street art event hosting. Clients include Oakley, THQ, Konami, Namco, Paramount and more.
A London based street artist and a part of the south east London Trust iCON movement … erm and that’s about all I could find on this guy. Lots of video game and movie references within his work, often with extra meaning though.
The Trust iCON website is currently in the working, so I may pop back and alter this paragraph once its up and running, and depending upon what info it contains.
On his Facebook page, Malarkey describes himself as a ‘London/Barcelona based street painter, illustrator, skateboarder and idiot!’
Fun, slighty crazy and colourful … very colourful, would be a good start if trying to describe Malarkey’s style. Another street artist you found their way into the scene via the skateboarding world. A big fan of Fiat Panda’s, Malarkey also likes Brixton and Export Guinness.
[Video] Malarky Documentary
A painter of large urban animals using minimal colouring, the Hackney council once threatened to paint over one of the Belgium artists pieces. The owner of the building (a recording studio) had given ROA permission to paint the piece, but the council still served a 14 day warning notice, threatening to paint over the 12ft rabbit if it was not removed. The council however made a swift U-turn when the recording studio owners started a campaign to keep the rabbit, arguing that it added to the value of their business.
Sorry I don’t know the artists, but these pieces also caught my eye on the day of our tour.
Is street art legal?
For the duration of our tour, whilst being an excellent guide, Frankie was also always on the look out for the authorities. Don’t worry, street tours are not illegal, but a lot of street art is, and as Frankie is knowledgeable on the subject he has been questioned once or twice before on whether he knows any of the artists, their real names, and where they might be found.
Laws around the world are naturally different, but in the case of London, the punishments for street art can be severe. Anyone caught grafting can be arrested and prosecuted under the Criminal Damage Act 1971. If found guilty and convicted, offenders could go to jail for up to 10 years if the ‘damage’ caused costs more than £5k. Damages estimated to cost less than £5k would naturally see a lighter sentence.
Even if you are not deemed to have caused damage to a property, your actions as a street artist may still be considered anti social. As such the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 gave local councils new powers and they are now able to punish offenders. The act was passed in an effort to help local councils clean up illegal graffitti and eye sores. Some of the new found powers include:
- On-the-spot fines – £50 fines issued by the police, local authority officials and community support officers, to anyone caught doing graffiti on public property.
- Clean up notices – If a property is not cleaned of illegal graffiti within 28 days the authority can remove the graffiti themselves and charge the owner for this service.
Graffiti has been around for thousands of years in one form or another. When it first hit UK shores, tagging was the most common form, a trend copied from the US hip hop scene. Tagging in its simplest form is an ‘I was here’, and was/is considered by many people to relate to gang culture and anti social behaviour. But, what of the other styles we now see across the capital? Is there a different between them? Can you categorise styles such as murals or wheat paste as being anti social, or are they more artistic than tags? Do they have more meaning? Is street art and graffiti actually two different things that should be governed by different laws?
It all makes for an interesting debate, especially when considering, as with the ROA rabbit case, some works actually add value to buildings and businesses, rather than damaging it, so it seems harsh to not only ask the owners to remove it, but also fit the bill. In fact its removal would be the damaging part in many peoples eyes. The value of these types of work should not be underestimated by the councils in my opinion, the art is what draws people to the area, remove the art and you take away local businesses passing trade. The area loses its identity and USP. I’m not saying that any old piece of art should be allowed to stay, if it is offensive by all means get rid, but if it brings value and interest to your area without offending anyone why would you remove it?
As mentioned above, there are somewhere in the region of 10 different street art tours in London. The above was booked with greatbritishtours.com, but through Time Out magazine who had a special offer running. Our tour cost £9, but I believe around £15-20 is the going rate. Not too bad if you ask me. Be sure to take you’re own food and drink though, or build up and hunger and go for a curry once your tour has finished. That’s what we did.