I recently discovered Shoreditch and fell in love with it straight away. The atmosphere here is different than in the London you discover as a tourist. Shoreditch is a multicultural neighborhood with charismatic community cafes, food from all over the world (apparently on Brick Lane you can find the best curry in London), quirky markets and also, it is London’s biggest street art scene.
When my friend Daniela suggested to do the street art tour on my weekend trip to London I thought it was a good idea. I don’t know anything about street art but I am always open to learning new things.
Before we arrived at the Tower Hill metro station, where the Strawberry Tours has the meeting point, we had to pass by “Molly Bakes” and buy one of their amazing freakshakes. You might have heard about this concept from Australia, and I have to tell you, ever since I’ve seen the pictures and found out that there is actually a place in London that does them, I dreamed of the day I would have one in front of me.
We took the overground train and got off at Dalston station, from where we walked towards the City of London for about 15 minutes. Even if it’s on a list with the best desserts in London, Molly Bakes it’s just a tiny cafe, with about 6 tables and a bunch of friendly staff that you can clearly see they love their job, as they dance and sing while they build up the shakes. It was very hard to decide what I wanted to go for, but in the end I chose the raspberry freakshake, with an Oreo brownie on top. It took about 10-15 minutes for the shakes to come, but we weren’t bothered about the wait. It was interesting to see them building them up. I have to mention that I am not really a fan of milkshakes, and I was looking forward more to the toppings than to the content of the jar itself. However, I was very pleasantly surprised when the massive shake arrived and I realized how good the sweetness of the cakes on top combined with the refreshing taste of the raspberry milkshake. I had in front of me a masterpiece of sweetness: marshmallow fluff covering the edges of the jar filled with milkshake, decorated with dried raspberries, a scoop of icecream on top finished with whipped cream, the brownie filled with Oreo biscuits above it and a giant fire-roasted marshmallow upon all.
It took us about an hour to manage finishing the shakes, after which we hurried towards Tower Hill, for the beginning of the tour. We got there right on time, at 3:30, and I was glad that we weren’t a very big number of people, which meant that we could get a better experience and ask more questions. The free walking tours work on a donation bases, at the end of the tour you pay as much as you think the experience was worth. I have done it in many cities of Europe and in fact, it is one of the first things I do when I am in a new place. It’s a great way of learning about the city you are in and also, if you are traveling alone, to meet new people whom you can hang out with after the tour.
One of the first things that I found out is that the London street art scene is pretty new compared with other cities, like New York for example. In London, street art started to become serious in the early 1990s, and most of the artists who put their work in Shoreditch are actually not English. While in the City of London street art is completely forbidden (but not herding a flock of sheep through the streets for example), in East London it is accepted. It’s not legal, but it depends of the owners of the buildings if they want to keep it there or not. Some of the pieces are commissioned, some are drawn over night. Another interesting fact is that the art is changing all the time. Unless a famous artist like Banksy for example creates a piece of art, there is always a possibility that it can get covered by another artist. This is why you never get to see the same street art in two different tours.
I have also learned that there are a lot of different types of street art, not only graffiti-es or paintings. Street art can be made out of anything, from simple writings on the walls to wooden structures, ceramic plates and many others. Most of the street art today is divided into two categories: art and protest. Every one of us can interpret differently a piece of art so during the tour we were left to make our own opinions about each piece we saw.
There are a few famous street artists that have taken over the walls in Shoreditch, and I am going to tell you a little bit about the most important ones:
Zabou – She is a French artist based in London, proactive, who’s most recent work is a mural about Jack the Ripper. She chooses to integrate the surroundings with her artwork, and this is why she created a piece of art about the famous London murderer right on the building where one of his victims was killed.
Jimmy C – I was deeply impressed with the amount of work and vision that this artist has put in his art. He is using his own signature pointillist style of painting, “the drip paintings” – as he calls it. His pieces are made entirely out of points, that don’t look like much if you stand nearby. As soon as you take a few steps back, you see that the entire image changes and a acquires form and contrast.
Banksy – Everyone knows Banksy and the impact he has made over the British urban art scene. I have seen some of his famous works in Bristol and they were really good. At the Truman brewery, Banksy plays with other forms of street art than graffiti.
Mr Cenz – He focuses on female faces and creates abstract compositions in his unique style. He is a commissioned artist and he is actually a professional graffiti artist who owns his own company. He has a unique style of creating layers and shapes that form colorful pieces of art.
Roa – He is a Belgian muralist who likes to draw animals by painting a while shape and then filling it with black and gray lines, creating an image. The piece below was created in 4 hours, as an example.
Cityzen Kane – He is a sculptor rather than a painter and he makes his pieces using clay, in 3D. His famous piece of art Portal, which has been created when his son killed himself, has been vandalized recently but because he is an important artist, his work has been restored. Unfortunately, the original colors could not be kept and neither the glitter he adds to the sculptures so that they shimmer in the sunlight.
Invader – A fan of the Space Invaders game, he has started to add the tiny characters to over 40 cities around the world, since 1998. He even sent one into space. His work centers around the idea of increased surveillance, knowing that in London for example, the only place where you are not watched by a CCTV camera is in your own home.
There are a lot of other artists and a lot of pieces that caught my attention. I didn’t even notice when the two hours passed and we had to say good bye to the guide, somewhere near the Truman brewery, where we actually spent the rest of the afternoon, over a pizza and a beer.