Street art has long been a prominent feature of London.
In Mary Poppins, jack-of-all-trades Bert spends his afternoons creating chalk drawings on the side of the street. Unfortunately, the ones in real-life London will not transport people into a land of fairytales with penguin waiters and a magical horse race. Despite its lack of transportation qualities the street art of London is a sight to behold.
When it comes to this form of expression there is one name that rises above all the rest – Banksy. The elusive guerrilla artist uses London, and many other parts of the UK, as his own blank canvas. His interesting, often thought-provoking and occasionally controversial works are hidden away across the city and pop in places you least expect.
Over the past ten years, Banksy’s artwork has become synonymous with UK’s culture and tends to provide a social commentary on what issues are affecting the country at that current moment.
In the build-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games Banksy created a series of pieces based upon the event. The most memorable was one of an athlete throwing a missile instead of a javelin taking a satirical look at the numerous Surface to Air missile sites positioned around Stratford to protect the Games in the event of a terrorist attack.
He has also previously painted murals at the likes of Portobello Road, Westminster and the British Museum. His work is instantly recognisable across the globe and is an absolute must for any art lover.
However, it is not just Banksy that embraces public art and brings it to the streets of London. Artists such as Eine and Stik have all types of work dotted around the English capital bringing an alternative look to this fine city. If you are wanting to see some of these works then head along to Shoreditch.
Seeing the street art of London
With so much street art, it is hard to know which places to go to. Luckily there are plenty of organised tours which will take you to the very best spots to see London’s various pieces of street art.
An absolute must is the Alternative London Walking Tour. The capital’s longest-running street art tour provides a much different side of London and showcases things that you would not see in any of the normal tourist guides. Setting off Tuesdays to Saturdays at midday, guides will take you on a tour of the best street art in the city.
This cultural treat will reveal East London’s incredible creativity and provide an insight into important historical events which have made the area what it is today. You will see work from around 40 artists on the tour ranging from Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Jimmy C, Invader and Stik.
The best part about the tour is that it operates on a pay-what-you-like principle so you can enjoy this incredible insight to London’s subculture for free, if you so wish. It is the first kind of tour in London to operate on this type of basis.
Alongside the Alternative London Walking Tour is the Street Art Bike Tour which takes you off the beaten track. Looking at the art, history and culture of the East End it is yet another pay-as-you-like attraction which can also provide a valuable source of exercise while on your holiday.
The street art of the East End is just a small section of London’s art culture and the city is home to a number of public galleries. If you are looking for some controversial modern art then head down to the Fourth Plinth near the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
These four plinths include statues of George IV and two generals. The fourth plinth has an interesting tale to tell. It was originally meant to be the home to a statue of a horse but designers and builders ran out of money during the 1840s and the plinth has been left empty ever since.
While there is no permanent fixture for this plinth, in 1999 it became a display space for specially commissioned art. In the past the likes of Anthony Gormley’s One & Other, where people stood on the plinth for an hour each, and Hahn/Cock’s large giant blue bird have used this space.
Moving out of central London and sculpture fans will have to visit Canary Wharf. This up-and-coming corner of the capital combines commerce with culture and is often home to a number of temporary exhibitions and events. Other areas to visit for public art are Spitalfields, Lewisham and Bayswater.
The former boasts a 3.5 metre high statue of Kenny Hunter’s I Goat which looms over Bishop Square. In Lewisham there are over 60 artworks across the borough and range from the mural of Artmongers and the popular pieces such as the Catford Cat. You’re probably pretty exhausted so I recommend getting some Afternoon Tea the Montcalm hotel London