In recent years, there has been an explosion of colour and creativity with eye-catching street art across the globe. I have had an appreciation of this art form for a long time as it is usually thought provoking, skilful and beautiful. This probably stems from seeing the cult hip-hop and rap movie ‘Wild Style’ set in New York in the early 1980s. Do look at the introduction to the film to understand how this stayed with me. Graffiti on underground trains were one of the first types of graffiti street art, tags, murals, stencils etc. When I moved to London there were a few to be seen, but certainly there have been an increase in the visual landscape in parts of London and other parts of the world I have visited recently.
Graffiti and street art are not a new phenomenon. As with ancient civilisations, humans were writing on walls to decorate them, convey messages and for pure art. In Pompeii, we have seen evidence that graffiti was written on the walls in what would have been a bustling city. In the brothels, there were graphic drawings on the walls on the types of services that were available. There are parts of the world where art must have been drawn on walls or caves with primitive instruments.
In recent years, there have been real stories of how street art has moved from a covert hobby to a legitimate art form. Whilst researching the topic I found the article ‘The Law of Banksy: Who owns Street Art’ in University of Chicago Law Review by Peter N Salib, who goes into the details of street art for its social value and benefits to the community. He also discusses the financial and commercial value of street art to communities. The rights of property and creative intellectual property rights of the artists are explained in depth.
Banksy is a world-renowned artist, and so he has been keen to give voice to a world that is at times – unfair, corrupt and downright self-destructive. I love it when he collaborates anonymously and supports causes that make me think, shakes up the status quo, or that which is simply sublime. I have only seen a couple of his works close up. One of those was in Tottenham, where the artwork on the wall was removed and sold off for a large profit. I guess that is just the way of the world.
There are many street artists doing this across the world as you may have noticed on social media. The Berlin Wall and Belfast have been galleries for fabulous street art and graffiti – that have changed the narrative of their recent darker past. I haven’t visited these two cities but their street art culture is very much an attraction and a valid reason for me to want to visit these cities one day.
I particularly like the German street artist Alias too, as a few years ago we had one of his thought-provoking calendars. I actually got excited at the beginning of each month to see what he had to offer as we turned the page each month in the calendar. To see if his art has the same affect on you – see his website for some of his street art!
The best way to see street art is to get out and take a walk. If you would like an informed guide, tours are available in clusters of London. A couple of years ago Rachel Kolsky, of Go London Tours, gave members of SLA Europe a walking tour of the East End of London. It was an added benefit to stumble across all the street art near Brick Lane. You can see the photos here on SLA Europe’s Flickr account.
In Hoxton, Shoreditch and Dalston in London – I usually have to glance at the magnificent artwork as I drive through the city. However, I have been specifically on my own walks to look and photograph street art. The whole creative energy and regeneration of the area has taken place for over a period of 16 years. I have seen changes from edgy rundown buildings to current hip venues and offices. The hoarding boards come in handy to create street art, but there are also many building walls with street art in a concentrated area.
There are many other remarkable areas of street art – such as Camden, Hackney, Islington, along the River Lea, and even closer than close, in my neighbourhood in Walthamstow!
In my neighbourhood, there has been a gradual increase in the number of street art visible around our corner. It is a fact that Walthamstow has seen a lot of regeneration, and the dreaded gentrification (which I am all for!). But also the new street art has created genuine community interest and pride in our environment. Wood Street Walls (Twitter @woodstreetwalls) is based in my area and have worked with local businesses and buildings to add community colour, statements, beautification and identity with the local area. I can now walk five minutes to see some amazing artwork outside on walls of local pubs, cafes, shop shutters, parks etc.
As with most art forms, the community has been great in supporting artists. However funding and space for art works is still lacking, and therefore artists still require the assistance for local and central government. Street Art is fine if the walls are approved but artist also want a space for their art and therefore local authorities should be able to facilitate affordable artist spaces and studios. A couple of business engagement aspects I like are the crowdsourcing campaign by Wood Street Wall for the residents to ‘Pick Their Pattern’ of an image of William Morris that they wished to be painted on a wall near the William Morris Gallery. And campaigns that ran to crowdfund for specific art projects.
If you are without these in your environment – you can get a copy of the book ‘London Graffiti and Street Art’ by Joe Epstein. It contains great photographs of street art across London, but also some inspirational and admirable quotes from street artists and what their art means to them.
One fabulous quote in this book by artist Zaki Dee 163 – The Chrome Angelz/The Others is: “Having been born in London, and grown up here in the 70’s and 80’s, through the 90’s, I was lucky enough to have been involved in, arguably, the three biggest movements of the last 40 or 50 years. From Punk and New Wave, into Hip Hop, through to the House/Rave scenes – and it’s no coincidence that London was at the forefront of all these subs-cultures when they first exploded onto these shores. After all this time, the UK graff scene is still going strong, and in London you can see some of the best work this country has to offer.”
It is fantastic and uplifting to see street art in clusters, isolated or even in the most unexpected places. They are a joy to behold! And just to keep us hooked…street art changes over time, and so it is worth going back occasionally to see new displays that are freely available to us all.