It seems like everywhere you turn in London, there's a street art piece just begging to be admired. From the walls of department stores, underneath bridges, and even on shop shutters so the pieces can only be seen at night, London's street art scene is as vast as its many types of street art scattered all throughout the city.
From memorials, portraits, and statues, or even just a graffiti tag with a subliminal political message, street art has become such a part of London's character (especially in the areas near Brick Lane and Shoreditch), that visitors come from all over the world just to scope out all the forms of street art London has to offer.
The legal issues surrounding street art in London
Some call the street art movement "vandalism," "destruction of private property" and even "criminal activity," while others claim it's an artistic form of anti-establishment, political protest and expression. But regardless of anyone's opinion, street art in the UK is still technically illegal and considered a criminal activity, which means often times authorities attempt to cover up pieces around the city as soon as they appear.
On the flip side, this means that by searching for different street art pieces around London, you can always count on there being a new piece of artwork to check out - but make sure you do it quickly, as it could disappear within a matter of days, or even hours.
Also, because street artists have to put their work up quickly before being caught by authorities, often times much of the street art found around London features dripping paint as the artist didn't have enough time to let the paint dry.
However, that's not to say that every piece of street art is considered vandalism. Sometimes, (but certainly not all the time), street artists get permission to paint on buildings, which leads to some pieces becoming elaborate, detailed pieces of art (especially some of the many pieces in London's East End). Not only that, after the famous street artist Banksy rose to international fame, councils and property owners started treating his murals as valuable works of art (his pieces do sell for as much as £550,000 at art auctions, after all); and several of his pieces in London are protected under screens to this very day.
How did the street art scene in London first start?
Once the street art movement in New York hit an all-time high during the 1980s and the English hip-hop and electronic music subcultures were in full swing, London's streets were slowly being transformed into canvases when artists started "tagging" their names all over the city with pseudonyms like "Robbo" and "Drax" on nearly every tube line.
But it wasn't until the 1990s when Shoreditch (which today is considered to be the epicentre of London's street art scene) was slowly becoming more and more popular for up-and-coming street artists - despite the fact that before this the area was not a popular place to live, let alone visit.
Soon street artists started leaving their "tags" on everything and everywhere around London's East End as well as the rest of London as a way to mark their territory with their fellow street artists, and also a way to "fight back" against the police who were constantly trying to cover up their work.
What are the different types of street art in London?
Like all types of art, London's street art comes in a variety of forms: From murals that cover entire walls, layered stencils, tags, sculptures glued onto buildings... sometimes London's street art can even consist of wheat paste or stickers!
Other times London's street art can come in the form of massive installations, such as the famed "Seven Noses of Soho" which can be found on several different buildings around Soho.
But because many street artists started their careers as taggers, and even the most famous of street artists continue to leave graffiti tags around the city to this very day, even the simplest of tags draw visitors and street art lovers to London from all over the world.
Where to find street art in London
The areas surrounding Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Spitalfields are loaded with everything from massive murals to old-school graffiti pieces and tags, so this is usually a good place to start if you want to search around for London's best street art.
However, London's street art scene isn't just limited to the East End. As a matter of fact, there's a ton of pieces of artwork scattered all around the city in neighbourhoods like the Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Camden and Brixton.
Banksy is (arguably) the most famous street artist who has ever left his mark in London, and his work has been seen in places like Bruton Lane in Mayfair, the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, and Rivington Street in Shoreditch. Unfortunately much of Banksy's work has been covered up or even defaced over the years, but you can still see his pieces on Portobello Road, underneath London Bridge on Tooley Street, Chiswell Street, the Regent's Canal banks in Camden Town, as well as under the Cannon Street rail bridge arches.
Other popular London street artists to keep an eye out for include Stik (known for his "stik people" pieces around Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Hoxton and Bloomsbury) and the Belgian street artist ROA (whose famous three-storey-tall crane can be found on Hanbury Street). Jimmy C is another well-known name in East London area, and although much of his work has been painted over recently, you can still find his "Joe's Kid" piece on Fashion Street.
But perhaps one of the easiest ways to follow famous street artists in London would be look for their "tags" or even stickers on everything from train cars to highway passes, as artists use these to show followers where they are active. Sometimes the location of the tag represents the artist's status and legitimacy, especially if it's found in hard-to-reach or unusual spots.
Because of this, if you really want to scour the streets of London for its many pieces of street art, you should really look up, down and all around every nook and cranny to see what you can find, because you never know what will be hidden in the most strangest of places.
Are you a lover of street art and graffiti? Join us on our free Street Art Tour every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. from Tower Hill station!