By Derek Robertson November 2018
London’s art scene is reflective of its vibrant, cosmopolitan culture – over 300 languages are spoken in the capital, which is home to people from all over the globe – and nowhere is this more apparent that the street art scene. While the UK still has fairly draconian laws governing what is classed as “graffiti”, there are still numerous spots where such expression is positively encouraged, and where those with talent can go to hone their skills. So if you want to see what the best underground artistic talent is capable of, here’s where to explore.
Hackney Wick, Fish Island
With plenty of repurposed warehouse space, Hackney Wick is a haven for artists of all kinds, as evidenced by the buzz around Fish Island. Known as a place where “names” go to practice – Sweettooth is particularly prolific around here – there are all sorts of wonderful murals around Bream Street, Dace Road, Smeed Road, and around the Crate Brewery, adding colour to the industrial surroundings.
Dulwich Outdoor Gallery
For street art with a twist, head down to the Dulwich Outdoor Gallery in South London. The collection consists of murals painted by international contemporary street artists based on Baroque works on display in the nearby Dulwich Picture Gallery – think Charles Le Brun, Nicholas Poussin, and Bartolome Murillo. Some of the interpretations are truly stunning, and have even been commissioned for book covers.
Brixton, Stockwell Hall of Fame
Since the early 90s, the basketball court at the end of Broomgrove Road on the Stockwell Park Estate has been a legal space for graffiti artists, and in recent years has become something of a mecca for the great and good of the scene. Considered one of the best “Halls of Fame” in the UK, it has attracted “writers” from all over the world, and maintains a policy of quality first (rude or offensive work is explicitly prohibited).
South Bank Skatepark
Long a hub for street artists, the South Bank Undercroft – nestled under the Queen Elizabeth Hall – is something of a London icon. Various plans to develop this little corner have always met with fierce opposition, and it remains a bastion of freedom and creativity, with writers, skaters, and the independent all using it as a place to me and just hang out. Some of the biggest names in street art are regulars here, so look out for their work.
Known as the epicenter of UK street art, the various hubs around Brick Lane are a riot of colour and imagination. From Whitechapel in the south to Shoreditch and Bethnal Green in the north, the various communities that call this patch home have all added their influence, and you could spend an entire day wandering the streets around the Seven Stars Car Park, the Old Truman Brewery, Cheshire Street, and the Nomadic Community Gardens. Various maps of the artworks exist online, and there are even apps to help guide you to the best murals.
Leake Street Tunnel, Waterloo
London’s largest legal street art, this tunnel is a 300 metre, professionally lit (the colour of the lights can be changed) wonderland for artists. It’s fame stems from 2008, when none other than Banksy hosted the Cans Festival here – since then, it’s been a mecca for worldwide talent keen to make their mark on the London scene. It lies beneath Waterloo station, providing a colourful thoroughfare from South Bank to Lower Marsh.
There’s a lot of art dotted around Camden town, some of it in very tucked away spots. The alleyway next to the Beatrice Pub, all along Jamestown Road, the huge mural on Hartland Road, and in and around Hawley Mews are all great places to see amazing pieces of work. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, the best idea is to book a tour – the two-hour Camden Art Crawl will give you insider’s knowledge and show you places even some locals are unaware of.
Shoreditch, Rivington Street
If you’re around Brick Lane, you might as well head to Shoreditch as well to check out what this area has to offer. Rivington Street is where to find work by some of the big names – Banksy, Ben Eine, Stinkfish, and Rolla to name just a few. Pop over to Redchurch Street too, where you’ll find some Shepard Fairy, Jim Vision, and Mr Cenz. Oh, and do check out the huge wall at Village Underground – it changes every few months.
It’s not just stand-alone murals that Brixton is famous for – a number of festivals featuring live street art now sit at the core of the area’s scene. Wander around the streets close to the station to see work by Jimmy C, Sweet Toof, and Luis Masai, then head to the Duke of Edinburgh pub and Brixton Jamm. As with Camden, it’s worth booking one of the many local tours to see spots off the beaten track.
Hackney Road, Bethnal Green
Follow the road from east to west, towards Cambridge Heath Road, and you’ll come across a huge number of incredible art works. A couple of spots are curated by Art Under The Hood (a one-man blog chronicling the London street art scene), while plenty of hoardings and walls have been used as a blank canvas – most are very visible. Louis Masai and Jim Vision are just two of the artists whose work is prominent around here, with many pieces located on the colourful Clare Street – a stroll along here is a must.