More than just a stroll around East London’s street art, learn more about Shoreditch’s past, present and future on the Alternative London Walking Tour.
‘Is that who I think it is?’ I said to myself or is that the rain in my eyes causing me to see things? Our guide for the tour, Doug, confirmed this was in fact street art dedicated to the actor and comedian Will Ferrell – well why the hell not!?
I’ve past Buxton Street whilst walking down Brick Lane many times, yet I’ve never noticed the face of Will Ferrell on the wall – I would definitely remember seeing the face of Will Ferrell on a wall in Shoreditch. That sentence still doesn’t look right.
And that remained the pattern for the rest of the soggy afternoon as I continued to ask myself ‘has that always been there?’. It’s easy to miss the smaller pieces of street art like Will Ferrell I guess. Shoreditch, Brick Lane in particular, is always so busy my attention is usually focused on avoiding the mass throng of people.
As we fought our way through the crowds (and rain) we stumbled upon my favourite discovery of the tour by far – Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader battling it out, on the side of a multi-storey NCP car park no less…
The story is the artist went out at the dead of night, armed with a cherry picker, some traffic cones and a hi-vis jacket and applied his trade mark titles to the wall – without as much as a raised eye brow. Moral of the story is, you can get away with things if you’re wearing a fluorescent jacket and have some cones to hand…
One thing I learned from the tour was to look up. I wonder how many people have seen these pieces before? Stuck to the top of lampposts we have a lions head and an angel of sorts. The latter’s wings are real by the way. The artist found a dead pigeon in his garage or studio, ripped them off and stuck them onto the body…
As you can see, street art can take many forms using various materials and techniques. I always thought spray paint was the foundation of street art, but the tour showed me otherwise.
Take for instance this shop window on Hanbury Street. On closer inspection the window is painted white while the artist has scrapped lines to create this incredibly detailed face.
Another face (who I think has a look of Roy Hodgson about him) but this time etched into a wall… The artist Vhils carefully chipped holes into the wall with a drill. See some photos of his incredible process.
And just around the corner on Hewlett Street is Cowboy by El Mac. Looking closer you can see the circular swirly technique El Mac has applied.
Charlie Burns, sometimes lovingly referred to as King of Bacon Street, is something of a local legend around the streets of brick lane. Having been there since 1915, he was known for spending at least half a day sitting in a car people watching and watching Brick Lane change. Read more about Charlie Burns, the man, the myth, the legend.
One of the largest pieces we saw was this four storeys tall stork by street artist Roa. And finally we have a piece which cleverly takes what is already there and turns it into street art. These can be seen all over Europe. The first time I witnessed one of these was in Milan.
You may notice that there are blue skies in some of my pictures. That’s because it was raining so heavily, I didn’t actually get a chance to take a photo of any street art we saw. So I returned a month later retracing our steps to find some of the pieces had now gone! I guess the tour guides have to be on their toes and continually look out for new street art! It does make your tour slightly more unique and also shows how quickly the scene moves.
Not even the rain could dampen my experience! And it absolutely chucked it down for a good majority of the hour and a half tour around the streets of Shoreditch. But credit to our excellent guide Doug (and I’m not only saying that because he is a fellow Scot) he stood out in the rain with no shelter and talked passionately about the works.
If you’ve ever wandered through the streets of Shoreditch and wished you knew more about the piece of street art in front of you, then the Alternative London Walking Tour is for you. But the tour is much more than just an education in Shoreditch’s street art.
You’ll also learn a little more about Shoreditch’s past and how it evolved into the multicultural district you see today. This building was a former chapel-turned-synagogue and now mosque – where else in the world would you see that?!
You’ll also be able to impress your friends with your knowledge of Brick Lane and it’s many curry houses, the imposing Truman Brewery and legendary bagel shops.
At the end of our tour, we stood on the end of Primose Street where it meets Shoreditch High Street.
Doug told us to take a look to our right towards the new developments where skyscrappers reach the sky. Then we cast an eye to our left where the old Shoreditch stood. Like Jerry Springer, Doug left us with a final thought; just how many years until what we see on our left mirrors that on our right? Yes development is needed and is going to happen, but at what cost? There are ways of advancing without demolishing the thriving hub and pushing the people that make it out – involving the community is just one.
And with that the tour ended. It wasn’t what I was expecting. It was far better. I now have a greater appreciation for not only street art but Shoreditch itself. The Alternative London Walking Tour is pay-what-you-like, but I feel it’s definitely worth some of your hard earned cash.
They also offer walking tours in French, bike tours, pub tours and evening tours. Check out the Alternative London Tour website for more information and how to book.
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