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Space & Place

A Flaneur’s View of London: East London Street Art

An Alternative Tour of London’s Art Scene

Before Banksy, if one were to think of the term ‘street art’, it would more than likely conjure up images of youths with neon spray cans. Now, street art is having a real moment, and is regarded as a serious art form by many… and in London, you don’t have to go too far to find it. To street artists, a building is the perfect canvas to unleash creativity and share their talent with passers by, and having experienced the fine talent of a handful of London’s street artists first-hand, I would strongly endorse this notion. London’s East End, the cultural wonderland home to Spitalfields and its markets, and Brick Lane with its multitude of vintage haunts and international food outlets, has some wonderfully inspiring and evocative pieces of street art. Particularly around Brick Lane, where there are gems to be unearthed around almost every street corner.

As my fellow flaneurs and I had no concrete idea of where we would go or what we would find whilst in London, stumbling upon this plethora of spray-paint masterpieces was all the more satisfying – like we had wandered into the pages of an artist’s sketch book, or an open-air art gallery.

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Having been floored by the sheer scale and flair of these unknown artisans, I took it upon myself after my return from London to delve a little deeper into the stories behind these works. My research led me to discover that artists from across the UK have left their mark on the facades of a vast amount of East London shops and buildings – with Banksy himself leaving his elusive yet distinguishable stamp. I also found, through further research, that there are, in fact, designated street art tours for those wanting to soak up all the artistic excellence East London’s streets have to offer. The street art of Brick Lane has even featured in the music videos of bands such as The Killers and their video for the song ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’. Suggesting that the graffiti of today, and in particular the street art of East London, is far more than just unintelligible vandalism.

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But rather a symbol or reflection of how the attitudes of society towards such matters have changed over the years, despite the fact that these imposing works of art are not commissioned and therefore illegal. Upon revealing this information, I questioned why the local council would allow such acts to continue, when they are still very much considered a criminal activity. I then thought of the economic and cultural benefits these art works bring to the area, and the positive impact they will have on aspects such as tourism. Which, in my opinion, can ultimately only do more good than harm. This brought me back to my experience, camera in hand, meandering through the various streets adorned with multi-coloured masterstrokes, and noticing many others doing just the same.

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After happening on the website streetstories.org.uk, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the print work of some of East London’s street artists are available to purchase, with the profits supporting the homeless in the area. It is evident that the artistic community of East London and its solidarity has gone from strength to strength over past years, resulting in a number of art galleries rearing their heads in the area – juxtaposed somewhat by the wealth of the surrounding City of London to the south.

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In the not too distant future, perhaps, the street art of East London will inspire other areas within major cities to adopt a far more liberal and laissez-faire outlook towards ‘the new graffiti’ and to realise the cultural and economic potential that street art can yield.

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The nearest tube stations to Spitalfields/Brick Lane include; Liverpool Street, Aldgate, and Aldgate East. Other principal players on the street art scene in London are Camden and Leake Street in Waterloo.