From Shoreditch to Peckham, London’s walls are alive with some of the boldest, most exciting street art and graffiti in the world. Each piece has a unique story and context of its own, not always immediately clear to the viewer. We asked Marcus Barnes, an artist and writer, to Insta-snap (and caption) some of his favourite spots.
10.00am – Pope’s Road, Brixton
Looming large in the middle of Brixton Market is this stunning piece of work by a friend of mine, Neequaye ‘Dreph’ Dsane. He’s been painting graffiti since the eighties and a couple of years ago began to really push himself creatively, completing large-scale portraits in high-profile locations around the capital. Each series of paintings represented ethnic minorities on a grand scale, with positive, often regal and refined, imagery. This is a particular favourite of mine, of local Brixton legend Michael Johns. It’s a beautifully painted, bold, positive image of someone who has made a humble and invaluable contribution to the local community, looking after the toilets opposite the entrance to Brixton Village for the last 20 years.
10.30am – Leake Street, Waterloo
Located in a huge, 300-metre-long tunnel underneath the railway tracks that flow out of Waterloo station, Leake Street (AKA the Banksy Tunnel) is one of London’s biggest and best-known graffiti and street art spaces. On any given day of the week you’re likely to catch people painting there, or perhaps you’ll see groups of Japanese kids in paper suits and ponchos taking part in a graffiti workshop (this actually happens!). It’s covered in paintings from floor to ceiling and you’ll spend a good while there snapping away at all the amazing (and not so amazing) artwork.
11.00am – Southbank Skatepark, Lambeth
Just a few minutes walk from Leake Street is another infamous graffiti spot, located right under the Queen Elizabeth Hall and next to the River Thames. It doubles up as a world-famous skatepark offering high visibility to those who paint there, although the shelf life of our handiwork is never very long. The space was threatened with closure back in 2013 although, fortunately, it was saved after an 18-month-long campaign and remains a hotspot for graffiti writers and tourists.
11.45am – Hackney Road/Scawfell Street, Hoxton
Hop off the Overground at Hoxton station and head round the corner to Hackney Road for the first of two great walls. The first is by the TRP (The Rollin’ People); Cept148, Snoe and BRK192… Cept has done a few of these comic book/graphic novel-inspired walls around east over the last few years and this is one of the last to remain, and untouched too, which is rare these days.
Further down Hackney Road, just past the building site that used to be a massive bingo hall, on Scawfell Street is Axel Void’s stunning ‘Comfort Of The Modern Slave’. I love dark, unsettling imagery just as much as I like bright and bold stuff, and Axel’s work is right up my street. I highly recommend following his Instagram account.
12.15pm – New Inn Yard/King John Court/Holywell Lane, Shoreditch
Shoreditch is probably London’s most abundant area for graffiti and street art. The artwork is one of the key reasons why it has become such a tourist hub, some is legal or commissioned and a lot of is illegal but tolerated. Between Curtain Road and Shoreditch High Street you’ll find one of the capital’s biggest commissioned collaborative works featuring the talents of artists including Lovepusher, Mr. Cenz, Tizer and Hunto – a stunning production that covers three sides of a large building.
Right round the corner on Holywell Lane is the famous club with old tube stock on its roof, Village Underground – and their main wall is utilised as a extra large canvas for artists, including this beaut from Dale Grimshaw. His portraits of indigenous peoples are always highly emotive and engaging, you can feel the pain and sorrow in their eyes – his ability to transmit emotion in such a powerful way is incredible. I’m a big fan of his work.
12.20pm – Citizen M Hotel
Right next to the Citizen M Hotel some hoarding has been put up as yet more building work takes place in Shoreditch. As is usually the case, the boards have been made free for anyone who wants to go and paint them while construction is underway on the building site. This has been happening since 2009, with almost every contractor that starts putting up new flats in Shoreditch allowing graffiti writers to make their building sites look ‘cool’. Of course, as soon as the building work is complete, the hoarding comes down and no new spaces are created in their place. Anyway, it’s worth checking out for a taste of what London’s graffiti community (and it’s national and international visitors) are capable of…
12.25pm – Shoreditch High Street
This piece by my boy Jam is one of my favourites; it’s bold, bright, in a prime spot in the middle of Shoreditch and makes no bones about its message. The Grenfell tragedy must be kept in the public eye because justice simply has not been done. On the weekend of the anniversary of the horrific fire that ripped through Grenfell Tower in west London, a group of graffiti writers organised an event at a designated graffiti space in the communal area at Trellick Tower, just down the road from Grenfell, to raise money for locals. The support from London’s graffiti community for those who have been affected by the fire has been unflinching and will remain so until justice is seen to be done.
12.45pm – Brick Lane/Allen Gardens, Shoreditch
Just off Brick Lane is Allen Gardens, a small park that is usually packed with people during the summer months. It’s where Shoreditch Underground station used to be before the East London Line morphed into the Overground. The Overground line runs overhead while the busy national railway lines out of Liverpool Street run below. This area had its first real saturation of graffiti when international event Meeting Of Styles was first held there, round the corner on Sclater Street and the top end of Bethnal Green Road, in June 2009.
Since then the Nomadic Community Gardens, which are located parallel to Allen Gardens, and the space around it has been used by the same event, opening up much of the wall space there. Nowadays you can find graffiti pieces all along both sides of the walls of the Overground’s elevated rails, along with walls in Allen Gardens and more space on the exterior of what used to be the ticket office at Shoreditch Underground station. Make sure you walk further down Brick Lane for lots more artwork from the street art side of things, especially on the stretch of road between Fournier Street and Fashion Street where some off-street garages and walls have become a mini outdoor gallery.
1.30pm – Cable Street, Shadwell
This is one of my favourite murals in London. Back in 1936, Blackshirts (the far-right organisation also known as the British Union of Fascists) decided to march through Cable Street, a part of London that was quite heavily populated by immigrants – just as it is now. Back then it was Jews, and the march ended up becoming a pitched battle between 30,000-plus immigrants and their supporters, the Blackshirts and the police. This brilliant mural was painted around 40 years later and depicts the chaotic scenes in great detail, with lots of action and tons of colour. An epic painting in every sense of the word.
2.00pm – Chrisp Street, Poplar
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a pretty nutty idea: an enormous chihuahua painted on the side of a block of flats, in a part of east London that isn’t famous for very much. But on the other hand, why not, eh?
It’s already become an iconic landmark and it’s less than a minute from All Saints DLR station, so if you really want to see it in the flesh, you only have to dash in and out of the station. Artists Irony and Boe have done a great job of painting the tiny dog on such a large scale and there are all kinds of social connotations that leap out of this work. The fact that yappy little chihuahuas usually belong to the wealthy hasn’t been lost on me, and I’m sure isn’t lost on many observers of the piece – when you place such a creature in an area that isn’t exactly economically strident, then it becomes a very different beast. Whatever your thoughts are, you can’t deny it’s a head turner and brings character to the area.