I like street art but I don’t much like graffiti. I get a small thrill from noticing colourful murals and clever stencils peeking out of unexpected places of the cities I live in and visit.
Mostly I appreciate their political statements and thought-provoking messages. But the black scrawl of graffiti provokes a negative response in me. Graffiti seems destructive, angry and almost pointless.
I joined a street art tour to learn more about the origins and development of the scene in London and the role graffiti plays.
Street Art in London
Since the late 1970s in New York where the graffiti and hip hop scene emerged, cities around the world have developed their own street art culture. London is no exception.
A collision of factors including access to cheap rail travel and art materials such as spray cans meant youths were able to express themselves visually on a larger, more public scale.
Fast forward to the 1980s and 90s and street art hero Banksy emerged on the scene in the UK with his insightful art pieces. This encouraged more creativity and more daring illegal placement of art on walls and property around the city.
Once considered vandalism these days it is not unusual for London businesses and local authorities to commission pieces from street artists for commercial use.
Street Art London tour
Our tour took us on a fast paced journey down the alleys and streets of Shoreditch. Our guide Karim, a well-known artist, shared his passion for the medium and his perspectives on how the street art scene has developed in London.
From him we learnt about the language and subculture of the street scene. From tagging to throw ups and gradually more complex pieces, artists grow as they learn or create new techniques to express themselves.
The most despised form of graffiti is undoubtably tagging. This seemingly thoughtless and destructive activity was explained in a different context by Karim. Artists earn their stripes by tagging in difficult to reach places and perfecting their typography.
The placement of tags generally goes unnoticed by the public who see this format as pure vandalism. On the tour I learnt that tags can be complimentary to fellow artists when placed in an area of white space within a piece. The opposite is true when placed over the details of original art.
Karim explained the ultimate goal of the street artist is to create something that no one wants to paint over or tag. So there is a constant drive to extend creativity beyond standard mediums and to places that are hard to reach.
Some artists use different materials such as wool, packing tape and even chewing gum to express themselves. Others extend themselves physically to place their art on unlikely and almost impossible locations.
Favourite pieces from the Street Art London tour
On the Street Art London tour we saw many examples of recent and older art that showed artists commitment to creativity. Here are three of my favourite pieces spotted along the way.
French street artist Zabou’s mural reminded me of my cheeky twins
Zabou’s work was among several female artists featured on the tour. This was a pleasant surprise given I had assumed (correctly) the scene was dominated by male artists.
Disgarded chewing gum is the preferred medium of artist Ben Wilson
Thousands of his tiny works are found all over London particularly on the Millenium Bridge. They mostly depict the people, places and events of the city and provide a welcome pop of colour to the grey concrete footpaths.
An ingenious mix of street and digital art by INSA
The mural below in Redchurch Street is brought to life using animation and is best seen in the GIF format below.
About Street Art London tours
I chose this tour having followed Street Art London on social media and their blog for some time. The group works with street artists across the city and plays a vital role in documenting and encouraging the street art scene in the London.
Our guide Karim shared his honest and unique insight as a street artist on all the pieces he showed us. I lost count of the number of pieces we saw but we discussed well over 30 artists and their techniques. What fascinated me most was the insight into the subcultures and politics of street artists and the movement’s shifts and changes over time. The tour was a unique insight into modern London culture.
‘I like street art but I don’t much like graffiti,’ is a statement I am sure Karim hears each time he takes a tour. If you want to go on a street art tour please keep an open mind. I am still no fan of urban scrawl but I now appreciate its context a little more.
Street Art London tour practicalities
The tour goes for about 2 hours and costs £15. Book the London street art tour online
This is an outdoor walking tour so check the weather forecast and wear appropriate clothing and comfortable shoes as you cover a bit of ground.
By its very nature street art is impermanent. So it is best to approach the day with the mindset that you are going to discover something new. Some of the pieces in this post may already have disappeared having enjoyed only a brief moment of physicality.
Check the Street Art London website for further details on all the tours they offer.
This post contains affiliate links. You can read our full affiliate policy on our disclosures page. All opinions are my own
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