Come explore the country’s largest gallery: its streets! You’ll find original art pieces in the most unexpected places: tucked around a corner, beneath your feet or even up on a roof. So grab a coffee and follow us on an art tour of the busy streets and hidden alleyways of Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Follow our tips for where to eat and drink along the way, and you might discover some new cafés and bars as well.
The streets are filled with the minute to the gargantuan – tiny prostitutes shed cherry-sized shadows onto the pavement, while propaganda-esque murals declare “Shoplifters Welcome!” in larger than life letters. While east London’s bigger artworks are often commissioned, smaller pieces might have been pasted up in the dead of night.
The public format of street art keeps an on-going dialogue with the locals, as it is a part of everyday life. It’s not unlikely to see a few artists’ work crop up time and time again as you peruse the brick walls of Brick Lane and Shoreditch – like Ben Slow who spent three days painting a large mural on Hanbury Street off of Brick Lane for the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity organisation working to prevent suicide in young men.
There is an abundance of street work infiltrating the main contemporary arts scene and it is now a fiscally viable format of the print medium. Shows like Urban Masters, hosted by the Opera Gallery, saw pieces by Banksy, Blek Le Rat and Shepard Fairey coming together in a Shoreditch warehouse. The theme of the exhibition was to pay tribute to the masters of the history of art.
We would love to hear back from you, so tweet us if you recognise any of the artists that we didn’t know, or if you want to tell us about your favourite street artists. And bear in mind that street art is constantly changing. Just as often as a new piece is being made, an old one is changed or painted over, so there is no guarantee that the works we’ll show you will be there forever. Some may be gone today already, replaced by new pieces.
We’re all inclined to have a few favourites, so here are some of ours:
Jimmy C. – a.k.a. James Cochran – uses a unique pointillist spray paint technique that can be seen on dozens of walls around Shoreditch. One particularly well-known work is his portrait of Usain Bolt on Sclater Street, which was done following the Olympics. But his pieces have also adorned the walls of galleries including Jester Jacques’.
Pablo Delgado, an urban artist (originally from Mexico) is known for his miniature paste-ups around east London. Last year he initiated a project to highlight the issue of street art theft. He “hid” 33 replicas of his Missing Lady print around the area and asked the public to find them. With the promise of a reward for anyone who found and photographed all the prints, Delgado then expanded that project to include a whole array of figures. Delgado, who has also had a solo show at the Pure Evil Gallery, does not consider himself to be simply a “street artist” as he works in several mediums.
Charley Uzzell Edwards, a.k.a. ‘Pure Evil’, is a street-artist-cum-gallerist who owns one of the best-known urban art galleries in London (located on Leonard Street in Hoxton). He has worked with famed urban artists like Blek Le Rat and Ben Eine. Now he continues to create his own pieces while also fostering professional curatorial relationships with fellow street artists.
For a working list of street artists, street art tours, galleries, and blogs – check out our guide below:
We wholeheartedly recommend Alternative London Street Art Tours to experience the art in person. You meet the group near Liverpool Street Station and your knowledgeable guide takes you through the winding backstreets of Shoreditch as he/she tells you the incredible stories behind the artists you likely never knew. There's even a chance that you'll bump into an artist at work, as new pieces are popping up every day. Plus, there's no set fee - so you pay whatever you want at the end of the tour. They also offer street art bike tours and street art workshops. You can follow Alternative London on Twitter.
If they're all booked up, here are a few of the other walking tours:
East London's galleries are almost as abundant as street art itself, but the works of street artists have been creeping their way onto the walls of these institutions. Some are particularly connected to the genre and here are a few galleries who are often showing fantastic urban art:
Located on Leonard Street in Shoreditch, this gallery is owned by street artist, Pure Evil.
This street art gallery has locations in Soho, Fitzrovia and Newcastle.
Located off of Brick Lane as part of the Old Truman Brewery.
Located on Bateman Street in Soho.
Located Lonsdale Road in Notting Hill.
This international gallery has a London branch on New Bond Street.
By Thea Foslie, Tooba Masood, and Sasha Filimonov