Street Art of Shoreditch & Brick Lane
On a very wet, very typical London morning, I decided to go explore the famed street art surrounding Shoreditch and Brick lane. Instead of being content with just bumping into street art (which is equally exciting), this time I was looking for something a bit more immersive. Something where I could actually figure out who did that stupendous piece in front of me and hear a story or two about them or the piece. So, I decided to do a guided street art tour. I went ahead with the first tour I found on Google – strawberry tours. Its one of those free tours where you pay what you like in the end. The tours are run by freelance volunteers who are either from the neighborhood or moved there and are passionate about the street art in the neighborhood. My guide was a working actor called Olivia. Olivia’s passion and genuine interest in the pieces she showed us made this tour one of the highlights of my trip to London. It’s a 2 hour walking tour and I stayed till the end despite being completely drenched at the end of it. So, that says a lot about Olivia as well.
We met at Shoreditch high street station and Olivia wasted no time in showing us our first piece, which blew our socks off! Its an epic mural covering an entire building from Holywell Lane to Braithwaite Street. The mural is a commission by a communication agency and was worked on by multiple artists simultaneously. The theme being connectivity.
As we take in the mural, the theme becomes clearer on the part in Holywell Lane. The beginning (?) of the mural shows the connections we make in our world today that are powered by electricity. For me, it was also a mirror on how synthetic our society has become.
The piece-de-resistance of the mural for me is the transition from the synthetic to human and natural. The robot dancing with the lady and a tug of war of sorts between man and machine. The long cable is now transformed into a tree branch seamlessly incorporated into the dark woodlands painted by Hicks & Zadok.
The woodlands are a fascinating description of connectivity in the form of conversations going on beneath the forest floor between the fungi. It’s a fantastical world that has been created.
From here on, in my view the story gets a bit distorted. Each part still connected to the theme of connectivity, but not really a part of the story line.
After the woodland there is a mural depicting death and while absolutely mesmerizing in its artistry, it is a bit annoying to me that the story ends abruptly in a way.
The mural continues onto Braithwaite street with a more obvious interpretation of communication & connectivity, where the photorealistic hands are worth admiring at.
My favorite part in this section is the piece collaborated on by Lovepusher & Mr. Cenz. The image of the woman holding a glowing globe which spells future is spell bounding. At this point, I am a fan of Mr. Cenz’s work and when Olivia says we will see more of him later on the tour, I genuinely cannot wait.
Mr. Cenz’s work is typically portraits of women which are layered with bright colours and motifs to give a psychedelic effect to the piece. His pieces stand out everywhere you see them.
The next piece we see is only a week old and is by world renowned American artist Shepard Fairey. He is most well known for his work on Andre the Giant, Obey campaign and the Obama campaign poster for which he got sued.
The next piece is by another artist who I am now a fan of – akajimmyc. I am a huge fan of pointillism and the fact that someone would use that technique while painting with a spray can was amazing to me. We see one of his famous pieces – Whitby street lady. It is difficult to imagine how long such a piece would take. The detailed features of the lady’s face and the expression in her eyes are captured in such a beautiful way. You have to see it to believe it. For those in the know, he is known for painting a mural of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust in Brixton. Bowie was from Brixton and meant a lot to the people there. His mural has now been covered with plexiglass and people still lay flowers there to pay their respects to Bowie.
As we move towards Brick Lane, Olivia advises to keep our gaze upwards as we walk. It is very common in a city like London to look down when you walk, because you want to see where you are going and everyone is rushing around, but if you do stroll with your gaze upwards, you do spot some interesting bits of art that people have just put there to make you think.
One such artist is urban solid. His work is very 1984 Orwellian which questions the big brother status quo prevalent – especially in London. His more popular work is the ear depicting audio surveillance. However, Olivia takes us to a brain with a wi-fi signal. It is another take on connectivity. It talks about how our brains are connecting with each other just like the wi-fi signal. Sometimes the connection is strong and sometimes its weak – an indication of human interactions and relationships.
While walking to our next piece, I take Olivia’s advice and look up and I see this. I snap a quick picture because I agree with no pineapple on pizza. Never understood that phenomenon. These boxes pop-up in various places on our tour. From the looks of it, they are activists whose noble cause is to get pineapple off pizzas and I am all for it.
The next piece is by one of the few female street artists – Zabou. Zabou is a French artist who paints other women street artists in 1950’s outfits but with a spray can in hand and a mask on their face. The portrait is typically black & white and colours are added around the portrait. This is one of her most popular pieces and it feels like it changes depending from where you are looking at her.
This next piece is by akajimmyc. It is called Joe’s kid and it was a commemorative piece by the kid in the piece – who is the granddaughter of the man in the image. She is an adult now and used to run a café at that location. The café is no longer there – a Vietnamese restaurant is there in its place now. The piece is also a commemoration to the community of Brick Lane.
A lot of migrants from all over the world came over to Brick Lane at a time when it was a fairly crime infested locality in London. Sometime in the 1930’s a political party in London decided to march in this community against the Jews who lived there. The party wanted the Jews to leave. The Jews were terrified and it was a very uncertain time for them, however, the brick lane community stood up against this party and did not let them take or harm any Jew who lived there. The mural is commemorative of the spirit with which the community protected their own irrespective of faith, culture or nationality and the fact that this family survived because the community stood up for them. It’s a beautiful story and makes you look at the mural with fresh eyes.
Genuinely moved, we move on to a massive piece at the end of this street painted by an artist called DREPH. He recently appeared in a show called Portrait Artist of the year on BBC. The fact that a street artist could get such a platform says how far and how relevant this art form has become in recent times. The mural we see is that of the mother of his child. He paints strong black women and did a series on them. The intense colours in the mural and the expression show the strength of the woman in it. While massive, it also feels intimate, clearly because the artist captured someone he knew.
As we come to the end of our tour, we finish it off with a piece by Banksy – a car he (?), they (?) painted bright pink. With everything Banksy these days, the car is now in a hideous Perspex box. The dribbles of pink paint are also covered by Perspex. I am not sure how I feel about this. Opposite it, is also a very commercial piece commissioned by Gucci. I am also quite torn about that one. Olivia explains that she is equally torn, but on the other hand, she says that there was a fairly drab wall here before and now there is a colouful mural there, so just from the point of view of uplifting the look of the place, she has made peace with it. I on the other hand am still a bit conflicted. Thinking about it now, I realize, isn’t that what art should be - it should make you think, make you debate with yourself and those surrounding you. From that point of view, I guess, the piece does serve its purpose there. I do not have any images of the Gucci and the Banksy pieces because they did not speak to me in the same way that some of the others did.
I leave you with images of other pieces I saw during the tour by some brilliant artists.
Heron by Belgian Artist Roa. Only paints native wildlife
Said Dorkins Urban Calligrapher - 1 week old mural
Olivia - Tour Guide