Last weekend, Thomas and I made our way to the distinctive and culturally diverse Shoreditch area, to embark on a ‘Street Art Bike Tour’ in order to see some of the best graffiti and street art that London has to offer. Shoreditch is increasingly becoming recognised as an area of innovation in arts and culture and is a hub for aspiring artists in a growing wellspring for creativity.
Entering the headquarters of Alt London, this artistic underground scene was immediately apparent from their unique office – a converted old school bus! The shell of the bus is regularly changed as it acts as a canvas for artists and friends to create huge murals exhibiting their own artwork.
Welcomed by our tour guide (and owner) Garry, we were informed that the tour would explore a strong community of artists from all around the world, that had used street art and graffiti to create ‘art provocation’.
Settled on our bikes, we zipped our way through the alleys and backstreets of East End London. I was pleasantly impressed with the nimbleness, speed and comfort of the bikes, which worked as the perfect means of transport in our art exploration.
The tour encapsulates Shoreditch’s alternative scene, following a series of art forms that varied from each other in their message and selected media platform. The cycle was a leisurely ride and we quickly became spoilt with choice by the passing gallery of art. Works ranged from 3D modules, murals, street installation and sculptures. Each artists work became more familiar as we began to recognise their unique style or signature stamp (also known as ‘tagging’). A particular favourite artist of mine was Christiaan Nagel, who has created vividly coloured mushroom sculptures, sprouting from the tops of buildings and walls throughout the East End – so make sure you keep an eye out for these peculiar fungi!
The tour is predominately an art guided tour; however, there are a few interesting historical anecdotes and non-art features along the way, including a quick stop to Hackney City Farm (which is free entry!). Nestled away in the heart of the city, the farm is filled with chickens, geese, ducklings, pigs and donkeys and has become a key environmental hub within the local community for almost 30 years now. Also expect to see ‘Syd’s’ coffee stall, which has been a family run business for 3 generations – first opening at the end of the First World War. It is an important time capsule of local history and is still, to this day, the only business in the UK that receives its power from a municipal lamp-post located just next to the stall!
Next stop was the pub! We visited the ‘Pride of Spitafields’, a small traditional English local pub. The weather was sublime, so with a cold pint in hand we shared some of our muses of the day.
My favourite artist of the day is Phlegm. Phlegm merges the gap between the paradox of reality and fantasy. His work features a visual narrative of long limbed half human and half woodland creatures that stretch across large scale spaces. Phlegm uses the same characters throughout his work and solely works in monochrome to create finely detailed intricate works. Each piece allows the audience for a brief moment to enter Phlegm’s unique ‘dreamscape’.
The colourful streets of Shoreditch have shown me the extent to which the street art movement has grown in the last decade, and the active influence it has had on socially relevant themes. I had such a brilliant afternoon and was continually impressed by the height of each artist’s imagination. Garry acted as the perfect guide, educated in the diversity of Shoreditch and genuinely passionate about each artist, he made the whole tour consistently interesting and is to date one of the best experiences I have done.
Please note I have not even mentioned half the artists seen on the tour so look forward to seeing the likes of: Pez, Ben Wilson, Swoon, ROA, Vhils, Conor Harrington, Nemo, C215, Jonesy, Vader and many more!
Other tours with Alternative London include: