When I think of London, I think of its urban landscape and the amazing art we have access to even by just strolling around. Unsanctioned, uncensored, unconventional, and unrepeatable art invades our (otherwise gloomy) streets and makes our lives infinitely richer. London – and East London in particular – is a live open-air gallery one should not miss!
When Lomography asked me to write on something unique about my city, the first thing that came to mind was its vibrant street art scene.
Street art refers to any form of art developed in public spaces. Arguably, in an attempt to challenge the way art is viewed and experienced, artists fled the confined environment of their studios and galleries and brought their work into a non-art context: the streets. By doing such, they have relieved themselves from the constrains of commissioned work, while challenging our own perception of the public spaces and the way we own it.
Under the umbrella of the term ‘street art’, we can find many forms of visual art including graffiti, stencils, stickers, posters, free drawing, tags, sculptures, installations, etc. The volatile and impermanent nature of their work is the common thread. What you see in the streets today might not be there tomorrow, so you better savor it while it lasts.
London, and particularly East London, is indisputably one of the world’s hotspots for street art. Having always welcomed counterculture artists, East London offers an endless landscape of railway lines, neglected brick walls, ugly car parks and decaying buildings – the perfect canvas for street artists.
In an attempt to further understand the street art phenomena we experience in East London, we contacted Richard Howard-Griffin, one of the team members of Street Art London Tours. They are passionate about street art and have been doing a great job in documenting and presenting the work of many artists to the public. Joining one of their tours is a must-do experience, even if you are a well-seasoned traveler or have lived your whole life in London. They work in close contact with many artists and know all the best kept secrets of East London streets. More recently, they helped developing a Street Art iPhone App so you can fully benefit from their insiders’ knowledge even if you cannot join one of their tours.
Hi Griff! Tell me, how did you guys started up with this project? What inspired you?
We really like street art. Yes, seriously, we actually like it. We wanted to create a platform to help promote and represent street art in London.
Why do you think East London has become such a creative hub for street artists from all over the world? What makes this area of London so unique?
East London has always harbored the new throughout this century. New people and new ideas. Right now, it is the turn of street art as well as a whole host of other creative communities. There are also lots of old dilapidated walls and shutters (although less and less so now) that provide canvases for street artists. It is mainly about energy and creativity though, and East London is awash with it. The local communities in London are also very supportive of the street artists who live and work here and are often more than prepared to offer artists wallspace.
Back in the days, graffiti – even the most artistic ones – were equated to vandalism. Nowadays, more people are becoming interested in street art and even grannies join street art tours. Why do you think the perception and acceptance of street art has changed in recent years?
Street art has become more acceptable in recent years, yes. But you are asking us to comment on the perception of two different things – graffiti and street art. Graffiti still has a little bit of a bad rep and grannies are still probably scared of it and rightly so! Street art has a shared heritage with graffiti though and there commonalities between the two, but street art IS different to graffiti no matter what anyone says. Just don’t ask us to say why, it will just start an argument somewhere.
Street art has always been fairly accepted by people in London, at least, good street art has. Read Banksy here, he was a real trailblazer despite what people might say about him. Street art’s acceptability is perhaps because street artists often set out to achieve a reaction from the public, to make an artistic statement. People like being surprised in their own city — to see an artwork that complements its surroundings, and that maybe wasn’t there the day before. As street art has grown, becoming both more widespread and sophisticated it has reached more people and has thus come to be accepted by more people. Good street art usually wins people over when they see it.
If — gun pointed — you would have to name one favorite street artist, who would you pick and why?
Is it a real gun? We cannot have favorites so would just have to take the bullet. There are lots of amazing street artists at work in London, it really is impossible to pick just one.