East London isn’t a part of the city that I’ve traditionally spent much time in, although I’ve always loved how vibrant and gritty it is. As the area becomes more and more gentrified, it seems that the time to enjoy this neighborhood while it still has a real personality of its own is drawing to an end. Soon Shoreditch will cease to look like Shoreditch at all!
Last Saturday I was invited to check out a walking street art tour with Alternative London and, guys, I love walking tours, so I said yes. I just think that wandering around with an expert in *whatever* is a really great way to spend your time in a city, whether or not you’ve been there before. (See also, VooDoo tour in New Orleans, Street Food tour of Brighton….my love of walking tours is well-documented here).
Doug, our very East London-y guide, took us round all the hot spots, starting at Shoreditch High Street Station, going down Brick Lane and eventually over to the Boundary Estate and back over near Hoxton Station.
There was so much color everywhere, and so many different kinds of textiles – it’s not all graffiti, or even all painting. And the rate of turnover is really high, so even someone going today, a few days after I was there, would have new works to check out.
You can definitely see where the old and the new are rubbing up against each other – blocks of shiny new luxury apartments rising hundreds of meters above run-down, painted-up brick buildings that have been on these streets for decades. The new parts seem garish at times, completely out of their element.
The tour guide also pointed out lots of the hidden street art – for example, this guy below. A small angel on a street sign. The wings look so realistic because the artist cut them off of a dead pigeon he found in the street before dipping them in paint and attaching them to the body. Easily missed when walking by. Kind of creepy. Definitely Shoreditch.
The artists in Shoreditch are transient and permanent, some making mark after mark in the neighborhood they call home, some coming from around the world to make their piece and leave. This piece for example – the artist does animals like this in every city he goes to, choosing an animal that fits into the area’s ecology.
This stunning 3-D mural/sculpture earned its maker three and a half years in jail. Totally reasonable. But then again, the UK isn’t known for its light hand with street artists. Ironic really, here, since that’s a large part of what gives Shoreditch, and more widely, the East End, it’s personality.
This gorgeous wall is one of the only known works in the area by a female artist, which of course caught my eye. Graffiti is seen as such a male-dominated pursuit; it was nice to have this recognition during the tour.
Eventually the tour wound down and we made our way back to the Alternative London offices and through Spitalfield’s high street (at least, I think it was Spitalfield’s high street, don’t quote me on that).
An hour and a half well-spent on a Sunny day in London. After that I hopped on the Overground, met my friend Ariel, then headed to Hampstead Heath with her friends for a long afternoon of picnicking in the sunshine before making my way back down to Brighton for a birthday party that I was very late to. What more could you ask of a perfect summer’s day in England?