LONDON | London has one of the largest collections of uncommissioned street art in the world, ranging pieces from well known artists like Banksy through to lesser known and new street artists. Street art can be found all over the capital, but East London is the place to visit for the highest density of street art. Walk around Shoreditch and Hackney and it’s impossible not to notice the brilliant (along with the admittedly not so brilliant) street art that’s scattered seemingly everywhere. It’s not just local artists who display their work on the giant canvas that is East London either – many of the world’s best known street artists gravitate towards this part of the world.
While these days it’s possible to find commissioned street art, most of the street art in London, and often the best stuff, is illegal and uncommissioned. It’s a cat and mouse game between the artists, building owners and authorities. Some pieces of street art last for a while, but much of it disappears almost as soon as it’s created.
Why East London? Well Shoreditch is where many creatives moved to in the 1990s when they were driven out of other parts of London due to high rents. It was an area with cheap rent and a lot of blank canvasses, with the industrial architecture and warehouses lending themselves to street art. Today, Shoreditch has been heavily gentrified and the amount of uncommissioned street art has declined while the amount of legal street art has increased. With increasing rents, the artists and creatives have moved further east. To capture what Shoreditch was 10 years ago, you need to move out to Hackney (which itself is rapidly gentrifying).
Walking around East London and discovering street art is very rewarding – a few of the artists whose work you might want to look out for are Stik, ROA, C215, Phlegm, Space Invader, Lily Mixe, Jonesy, Ben Wilson, Cranio, Eine, Cityzen Kane, Conor Harrington, David Walker, El Mac and Vhils. If you want something more in depth, a good option is the Alternative London Walking Tour. This “pay what you like” tour actually employs street artists and those involved in East London’s creative industries as tour guides, which means that you have a wealth of knowledge available to help you understand more about the street art and creative scene in this part of London, the challenges that street artists face, and the stories behind some of the pieces.
As gentrification takes hold, the East London street art scene will continue to merge and adapt. While there will always be street art in East London, it may never reach the current heights that its currently experiencing. Rents increase, artists leave, public space is privatised, and uncomissioned, thought provoking art gives way to commissioned art with commercial backing. If you love street art and are in London, take the opportunity to explore and discover its streets while you still can.
If you’re in London already, getting to East London is obviously quite easy but for those of you on the other side of the world, here’s a little info about Cathay Pacific, who kindly flew us over to London which gave us the opportunity to explore East London for the first time in over a year.
Cathay Pacific has over 70 flights a week to Hong Kong from six major Australian cities, offering a choice of flying in economy, premium economy or business class. Cathay has at four flights daily from Sydney, three flights daily from Melbourne, 11 flights a week from Brisbane, four flights weekly from both Cairns and Adelaide, and ten flights weekly from Perth.) From its Hong Kong hub, the airline offers five daily flights to London. From 2 September 2016, Cathay Pacific will launch a four-times-weekly service to Gatwick (LGW) operated with A350 aircraft, bringing it to a total of 39 flights a week between Hong Kong and London – more than any other carrier. In addition to serving London, Cathay Pacific also offers a four-times-weekly service between Hong Kong and Manchester in the United Kingdom.