An Alternative London tour

First published on State of the Arts

Not that long ago street art was considered a synonym for vandalism. Tags scrawled by young louts hanging from railway bridges when they ought to have been home at night and who didn’t respect the value of people’s property. Or at least that was one mindset. But things have changed (partly to Mr Banksy’s fame) and now the whole spectrum of street art, right from the scorned tag, through typography, paste ups, and murals can be seen on the streets of the world’s most celebrated cities.

On a street art walking tour through parts of Old Street, Shoreditch, and Hackney, with Emilie from Alternative London, I was shown an array of styles and forms, some playful and aesthetic, some a demonstration of identity, and others part of a social conversation and making challenge statements. And try as they might, the authorities can’t stamp it down. Just like Christiaan Nagel’s brightly coloured mushrooms made from expanding foam and popping up around the east, it keeps on growing.

Street artists are nothing if not innovative. Take Ben Wilson. You’re unlikely to notice his work. In fact, you’ll step all over it. Also known as the chewing gum artist, he creates works on discarded and dried up bits of gum, putting the view in front of him down on the sticky pavement. Some of the simplest work is deep in meaning, like ‘Stik’, the man who is a comment on the vulnerability of the disenfranchised homeless community.

Street art is no longer underground, displayed in galleries and selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds. We see pieces by Banksy, Thierry Noir (the first man to paint on the Berlin Wall), Connor Harrington, and a secret pop star who goes by the name of Bambi. Having soaked up inspiration from all the above and more, we wandered back to the studios (via a beautiful and intricate paste up mural from Lily Mixe) to create our own.

Emilie guided us through designing and cutting out multi layered stencils, and bravely trusted us to wield spray paint as we cast it on the walls, paper and bags to take away. Struggling to create the perfect A4 stencil, I’m in awe of the large and intricate pieces like that of French stencilist Tian.

But this form of art isn’t about competition. Instead it’s creative and expressive. Rocking my new bag and proud of my skills, as well as encouraged to look up, down, and really see what’s around me, I’ve got a whole new appreciation for art—wherever it happens to be.

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