Enchanting, funny and crammed full of the messages that society tries to ignore — graffiti is an important part of London culture. We give you the lowdown on appreciating it.
Reporter: Holly Patrick | Sub-Editor: Yasmin Jeffery
Graffiti is an illegal form of art that originated in the prehistoric caves of Indonesia. If the establishment existed 35,000 years ago, those naughty Neanderthal graffiti artists might have been prosecuted for documenting and creating just like the modern-day wall artists are. When they are caught, that is — sneaky Banksy.
While defacing or vandalising a building for no greater good is a colossal shame, the graffiti of London should still be held up as priceless artworks available to everyone.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a map of what we think is some of the finest, most creative wall art that Shoreditch has to offer. Go, see, admire and get inspired. We’re not advocating breaking the law, but once it’s broken into extraordinary and somewhat amusing wall art, why not appreciate it?
Coming out of Shoreditch High Street Tube station you’re greeted by a plethora of satirical graffiti. It’s a misery that we so often walk right on past, without stopping to admire the painted thoughts of artists — often the thoughts everyone else is thinking.
Turn left out of the station and you’re under the bridge.
Heading straight down Brathwaite Street towards Commercial Street, there are two walls either side of the road, shrouding passers-by from the train lines either side, and full with art you could only dream of creating.
Walking along Commercial Street, it quickly becomes apparent that art is everywhere.
Whether it’s painted, sculpted or sung by a guy wanting a little bit of spare change, you just have to look for it.
Past the crypt, which sells amazing coffee, take a right onto Wentworth Street, and then a left onto Petticoat Lane.
Among the fabrics and jewels for sale, you can see a mysterious artist tag in the form of a cafetiere. More appreciation for coffee culture? Yes please.
The tag, above, can be seen around London, and always in the same style and color, depicting the advancements and diversity within graffiti art. Moving from the basic scruffy tag found at the back of Safeway in the 90s to the updated and culture encompassing tags of 2016. Of course amateur, mindless vandalism still exists, but maybe this kind of tag will pave the way forward for spray can wavers to become skilled artists.
A left out of Petticoat Lane will take you along Whitechapel Street, past galleries and quirky shops. Before you get to Brick Lane, there’s an underpass on the left-hand-side of the street, between KFC and “Cashino” — it’s old and it’s beautiful — so just look up.
The sweet art is obviously commissioned work — less of a cryptic message and more of an artist’s interpretation of Shoreditch.
Back up out of this beautiful cave and take a left, then another when you reach Brick Lane. If you’ve been here before you’ll probably remember the endless touting guys, willing you to come and enjoy “London’s best curry”, but Brick Lane has so much more to offer than a mile of Indian restaurants.
An ever-changing collection of works from the world’s best artists, including Italy’s Urban Solid, Ben Eine and Banksy. A vibrant hub for artists to create, safe in the knowledge they will have an appreciative and inspired audience.
Walk the whole street a few times. Gaze at everything, look at the details and respect the talent.
The penguin — let’s call him Sydney — speaks the minds of so many Londoners. Graffiti artists are the peoples’ people, expressing social feelings for all to see. They’re not some unreachable entity that extorts you to stand in a silent gallery, looking at their work while you wonder what to have for dinner. Graffiti is the art you admire on the way to get your dinner, while being inspired to make the world a better place.
Immediately after the penguin and his horny mates, turn left into a cul-de-sac, strangely named Private Absolutely No Parking. This cul-de-sac is home to vast amounts of awe-inspiring, funny, sad, dark, thought-provoking, charming and relatable art.
By all means, stay in this wondrous cove, but there’s plenty more to see.
Take another left and maybe even stop off for a curry if you fancy it; you’re in the right place after all.
On your way, look on your left to see a skeleton trying to keep the peace.
The next destination is another left turn onto Hanbury Street; you’ll wish you had eyes in the back of your head.
Here’s a selection of a few of the Hanbury greats:
The graffiti tour is nearing an end, but this is by no means all Shoreditch has to offer; there’s hidden art everywhere you turn.
Two Italians working under the name Urban Solid begin to bring this map to a close.
Take a diagonal across the road toward Rocket Vintage clothing store, and you’ll see the bright pink ear.
Graffiti doesn’t have to carry the connotations of “unwanted”, “illegal”, “messy” or “an expensive clean up” — it makes the dull, sooty streets of London brighter and engaging. Hunting and sharing it not only supports the artists; it’s also free. And who doesn’t like free things?
Graffiti art changes quickly — especially in London — so admire it while it’s there.