Let’s be frank, street art is a little divisive. The point of view from a building owner is often going to be much, much different to that of an everyday wanderer, unless of course it’s a commissioned bit of Banksy they can protect under a sheet of plexiglass.
After meaning to go for an age, we joined one of the East London street art tours and our tour guide opened up a whole new universe. The most amazing thing is that every time our guide does the tours, there is something completely new.
On shutters that roll down to reveal masterpieces, corners that never usually get a second glance and bare expanses of walls that would normally just hold tagging.
These are the new art galleries. Made famous on social media but only properly accessible on foot, the streets of East London hold more than tatty ‘post no bills’ signs.
Look up, peek around corners and turn left instead of right.
Fantastical creatures rendered in incredulous 3D, long running jokes sprayed along the entirely of a street, clever statements that float through your head long after the image has left your eyes and simple commentary on socio-economic injustices.
But, is it all good? Well, no. Not always.
At my university we were encouraged to be as creative as possible and a couple of otherwise square mates had a board especially for practicing their aim with a spraycan. Over time they perfected their art and left behind their intended career designing skyscrapers, for one being commissioned to create beautiful, edgy graphics.
Each city that we’ve visited has an individual stance on street art – Lille, New York, Lisbon, Brussels, and Barcelona embracing the vibe – but we don’t usually stop long enough to enjoy the masterpieces. This is definitely going to change.
We were fascinated to learn of the unwritten code most artists abide by – you only have the right to paint over someone else’s work if yours is better. Some uncommissioned murals have laid untouched (bar the odd errant leaf of mischief) for years, whereas some areas change daily.
Our guide took us to all of her favourite places and quite literally expanded my mental map of the East End by a factor of 5. How are there so many nooks and crannies we haven’t even seen?
On a 3 hour tour we only stopped to take photos and admire the stories behind the images.
Classically trained artists who turn to the freedom of creativity (mixed with a touch of illicit thrills) and raw young talents hoping to get a break and become the next Banksy.
I kept walking along going “this one is my favourite, no THIS one is my favourite” but ultimately the one I adored over and above the rest were the balloon toy dolphins above, a collaboration between Fanakapan and Louis Masai to raise awareness of the dangers facing dolphins.
Oh, and the answer to the question ‘where to find the best street art in London?’ Well, you’ll just have to go wandering and find out for yourself now won’t you?
So, is graffiti vandalism or is street art simply utilising an urban canvas?