East London Street Art Trail

Across the road from Liverpool Street rail station, the City ends and the grittier East End of London begins, and this is where we ventured forth today.

Call it street art, self-expression, self-promotion, graffiti or just plain vandalism, there is no denying the area around Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Old Street and Shoreditch is made more colourful, interesting and fun by the creative individuals who leave their mark on disused buildings, used buildings, wasteland car parks, hoardings, shutters, doorways and sometimes the most surprising places.  And when you chance upon their handiwork, you can't help but raise a sly smile or stop and admire the imagination, originality and skill involved in a lot of what you encounter on a leisurely, exploratory stroll.  Well, as leisurely as a lunch hour will allow.

Sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes humorous, often surreal, most of the art around these areas is a quirky joy to behold, produced by obviously extremely talented souls.  And the locals, far from being at all outraged or put out, not only seem to accept it as part and parcel of living or working in the midst of such a melting pot of creativity, but appear to see it as a draw to the area and their businesses, and are only too happy to direct you to nearby streets adorned with other "works of art", some of which are protected by perspex.  In fact, a lot of the work is not only legal but often with permission or by request!

We don't claim to know much about the scene.  Our lunchtime excursions are a voyage of discovery!  But we certainly had fun investigating the side streets off and around Brick Lane as a starting point....and then, a bit later on, some of the other areas mentioned above.  Here are our findings...

First, a quick stop at the cockney cash machine on Commercial Street to fund our journey back to the office.  We figured a dirty would see us right.


Sky rockets loaded with bangers and mash, we were good to go.

Since 2006, vibrant, giant letters have been popping up all over London.  They are the work of Eine (real name Ben Flynn, born 23 August 1970), a typography obsessive most famous for: (1) his work adorning the shutters of the shops in once dreary (not anymore!) Middlesex Street, rechristened "Alphabet Street" by local residents (he persuaded local shop owners to let him create a whole alphabet along their street); and (2) President Barack Obama having been presented with a painting by Eine, "Twenty First Century City", as an official gift from the British Prime Minister, David Cameron in July 2010.

"The nicest reaction is seeing kids skipping down the street calling out the alphabet, or parents saying my work has helped their kids learn their A to Z." - Eine

By the way, his favourite letters are "e" and "m".  Not so favourite is the letter "o" because, he says, "it needs to be a perfect circle or oval and it looks the most wrong if you don't get it right". Generally, each letter takes about an hour to create.

Top of Middlesex Street
Appeared in 2010

Bottom of Middlesex Street

Old Street
Painted in partnership with the Flavasum Trust, a charity that uses the arts to reach young people, and to warn them of the dangers of carrying weapons.
Eine recently updated his previous mural, "CHANGE", that commemorated Tom Easton, who was stabbed to death nearby in 2006. It now reads, "Worth MORE".

Three greats: Roa, Phlegm and Eine at The Foundry, Old Street Roundabout

Roa is an extremely talented and prolific Belgian street artist, renowned for his giant black and white animals, his largest of which is the crane that resides on Hanbury Street, painted in 2010.  Close by, along Brick Lane, rats and birds make an appearance at night, when the shops close and pull down their shutters.  Self-admittedly obsessed with animals, his favourite book is the illustrated version of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species".  Owing to the scale and detail, and therefore the amount of hours required to produce each piece, most of his work is with permission.  Roa paints in cities all over the world but is also drawn to lost or abandoned places, reclaimed by nature.  Click here for an interview with Roa.

Hog on Bacon Street; hedgehog on Chance Street

Buxton Street, off Brick Lane

 Squirrel on Club Row, sadly defaced

Foundry Ferret

Stik paints stick people and has been doing so all over East London for over ten years.  Simply painted in black and white against a block of bright colour, they have a friendly appeal and a curious ability to convey all manner of human emotion.  Click for more on Stik. 

“Beauty is in movement. That’s what it’s about. Beauty is about the way that someone moves their body. You can tell by someone’s walk if they’re angry, whether they’re happy or if they’ve just eaten. You can tell a lot about someone just by the way they’re moving their back or their eyes. There doesn’t need to be a great deal of detail there. You can see it from across the road. You can see someone silhouetted against a white wall in the night and check whether they’re walking in an aggressive way or if they’re someone you know. That’s what I’m trying to capture in my work – that direct recognition” - Stik, in Little London Observationalist, 6 December 2009

Grimsby Street, off Brick Lane

Comfy cat and Stik
Redchurch Street
Stik Thief, Pitfield Street
Modified from the original, in which the little stik stood in the now blackened out window

 Opposite The Foundry, Old Street

Invasion of London: Successful.  8 waves, 101 hits, claims the website.  Invader is a French street artist who creates space invader-style mosaics, based on the arcade game of the 1980s.  No two pieces are the same.  The invasion has been worldwide and began in 1998.  London was first hit in 1999.  Nowhere is safe.  There's even an invader on the Hollywood sign. 

I love Phlegm!  Phlegm’s work has a sinister, nightmarish feel, featuring ill-proportioned, other-worldly figures operating complicated machinery - and he is completely unique.  Much of his work is in Sheffield, where he is based (although he's originally from North Wales), but his graffiti murals can also be found in London, Wales and as far afield as Norway and Croatia.  Originally known for his self-published comics, his street art is strongly influenced by the dip pen and etching techniques found in his comics.

The Foundry

Rag Factory, Heneage Street, off Brick Lane
Painted earlier this year over three days

Look up, and the eagle-eyed explorer will likely be rewarded with the site of multicoloured giant mushrooms, which have been sprouting from the tops of buildings around the City outskirts since 2010. They are the work of London-based artist and musician, originally from Durban, South Africa, Christiaan Nagel, who creates these festive fungi from polyurthane (syrfboard foam), fiber glass and stainless steel.

"Mushrooms grow spontaneously but yet need the perfect climate and environmental conditions to sprout…. Just like a uniquely creative idea by any artist or scientist. The winners of the future will be the winners of ideas." - Christian Nagel in conversation with Street Art London

A few others we really liked...

"An Unknown Pleasure" by Fin DAC
(urban aesthetic/stencil artist and Artistic Director at Beautiful Crime)
Popped up on Hanbury Street in April this year
Inspired by one of his three chinese models, Meggie, photographed by Lauren Beck

by Otto Schade on Hanbury Street
Inspired by Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam"
I saw the artist at work a week or so beforehand. It was great to come back with Jess and see the finished result!

by Jana and JS, Franco-Austrian duo and couple,
whose work first started appearing on the streets of London in May, this year

"The wall itself is important - we prefer walls which carry history but we’re especially attentive to the environment: the architecture and the people who are living there. We also like abandoned places very much. We think it is very important that our work fits to the environment and makes some sense. We are always trying to make links between what we paint and where we paint it, often by introducing some kind of reflection game or mise en abime but also by representing some feeling that the place inspired in us." - JS in www.streetartparis.org


by C215  (real name Christian GuĂ©my)
Stencil artist since 2006; grafitti artist for over twenty years

"C215 is a French stencil artist who creates tiny and intricate stencils. C215 describes the motivation behind the choice of his subjects as being those people who are rejected by society and capitalism, the ‘forgotten’. The message behind his work is not directly political, instead C215 seeks to humanise his subjects and raise awareness about people’s plight by awakening passers by to the identities behind each individual. There is also a message behind the placement of his works, behind bars, on bins and on rusty old doors, so called ‘non-places’." - StreetArtLondon.co.uk

And the best of the rest...

For further reading, this is a thoroughly well written and really interesting article on the who, what, why's and wherefor's of all things street art.

Here's an A-Z guide of street artists.

And finally, here are some street art photos from around the world.


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