The writing’s on the wall

The sun’s coming out. The days are getting longer and we explore the capital’s street art scene with writer and broadcaster Mr Londoner.

I love my city’s industrial heritage: railway arches, viaducts, old engineering works and abandoned water towers. These are all great places to explore. To me there’s something wistful about these forgotten ‘in-between’ spaces.

Not-so-buttoned-up Brits
It’s these very places that go hand-in-hand with our thriving street art scene. Urban art tours provide an edgy alternative to the more traditional offerings. Achingly-cool Shoreditch is famous for its street art as well as its hipsters. Over the river, in Lambeth, are the Leake Street Tunnels under Waterloo Station. Street art here, far from being forbidden, is positively encouraged.

Shoreditch street art

Street art in Leake Street, SE1, is both legal and encouraged

Cans Festival
Every year Leake Street hosts its very own ‘Cans Festival’. This showcases upcoming artists and puts the area more conspicuously on the map. Local authorities don’t quite know what to do about street art. Should they prosecute those committing ‘graffiti’ – or protect street art behind perspex?

Abstract street art, London, East End

Tape is an unusual medium for street art, Hoxton

A whole new alphabet
The world of street art naturally comes with its own argot, understood by insiders. We might see a ‘piece’. This is a simplification of ‘masterpiece’ – describing more complex art that requires planning to complete.

Street Art, London

Dramatic street art animates an entire wall in the East End

Burners and burning
A ‘burner’ refers to a piece of work so hot it’s ‘burning off the wall’. An artwork that’s still ‘burning’ remains there for all to see. Some art stays untouched because it’s hard to get at. Certain work in the ‘heavens’ – painting on the ceilings of viaducts or tunnels.

3D Art in Shoreditch - a 3D face in silver

3D Art in Shoreditch

Tags and dubs
A ‘tag’ – a stylised signature completed freehand – is street art at its most basic. ‘Dubs’ are a London thing. These are tags spayed in a metallic silver paint. They’re applied to darker surfaces so they stand out.

Angels, toys and bombers
Taggers are sometimes called ‘bombers’. Among streets artists, tagging isn’t well respected, especially when works deemed to be finer are defaced. Bombers thought to lack talent are dismissed as ‘toys’. Respected artists who’ve died are called ‘angels’.

Street Art, London

Grab a picture quick of street art you love. It’s often gone the next day

Religious devotion
My tours often come across the works of celebrated street artists, all of whom pursue their art with an almost religious devotion. We might see the alphabet letters of former Lloyds’ insurance broker Ben Eine. In Shoreditch we could discover the work of French graphic designer Zabou – whose globe-trotting inspires her art.

Trump and Boris street art

Loretto’s art pulls no punches, Great Marlborough St, W1

Laughing all the way to the Banksy
Bristol-born Banksy, is the king of the stencil. His politically-charged work now sells for a fortune and hangs in the homes of the rich and famous. Like Banksy, the identity of Loretto is something of a mystery. The work in stencil and spray lampoons celebrities and political leaders on both sides of the pond.

Street Art - painting of Shakespeare, London

The Bard by Jimmy C – Bank End, Bankside

Aboriginal Pointilism
Jimmy C is the British-Australian artist James Cochrane. His ‘drip paintings’ are inspired by both aboriginal art and the 19th Century French ‘Pointilists’, who created stunning paintings using small but distinct dots of colour.

Street Art, London

Stik’s ‘A Couple Hold Hands in the Street’, Shoreditch

A couple hold hands in the street
The work of Stik remains perennially popular. The former homeless artist speaks of ‘the melancholy of hope and tenacity’ in his work. His 2010 image ‘A couple hold hands in the street’ features a niqab-clad stick figure. It’s off Brick Lane in London’s East End and has
been embraced by the local Muslim community. It was painted in 2010. It’s still there. It is, without doubt, a burner.

Blue Badge guide Mr Londoner is Antony Robbins. He’s a communications consultant, broadcaster and former Museum of London director.

Book this guide button