London is a fascinating city and one of the most dynamic in the world. Very open to the world, the English capital has a great cultural diversity. Street art is one of these many cultures. London attracts a large number of art-loving visitors every year and has a large number of world-renowned street artists.
The history of street art in London
Street art began in New York in the late 1960s. It soon spread outside the United States and took over the streets of several other states. Following the example of countries such as France and Germany, England also welcomed this new art form in the early 1980s. The country took its first steps into street art through the classic spray can graffiti.
Two major schools were quickly formed: London and Bristol. While in the latter city the phenomenon was democratised fairly quickly, it struggled to become popular in the English capital. Indeed, the city of London was heavily policed and this type of art was therefore prohibited at the time. The most daring graffiti artists were heavily punished by the authorities.
It was not until the 1990s that the practice of this urban art really took off in Shoreditch. Gradually, the movement spread to the whole city, making London the capital of European street art.
Today, street art in London has undergone a clear evolution. Several artists have overcome the threats of the authorities and have made every effort to give it visibility and popularity. Even if today the practice of this art is still illegal in many parts of the UK capital, the legal measures and sanctions have been lightened. There are even areas of London where it is perfectly legal to practise street art, and graffiti artists and taggers do not hesitate to express their creativity.
London’s iconic street art locations
Street art can be found anywhere in London. But some areas of the capital are veritable open-air museums where you can contemplate a multitude of creations by different artists from around the world. There are five main areas.
Street art in Brick Lane
Brick Lane is one of London’s cultural centres. In addition to its international market and popular open-air bars, the area is known and appreciated for the diversity of urban art it offers. Indeed, this part of the capital is full of graffiti and beautiful murals. Whether it’s Aldgate East, Handbury Street or Grimsby Street, street art can be found all over its streets. One of the highlights in Brick Lane is the French Maid.
Camden Town and its superb works
This area of London is famous for its flea markets, street food, shops and especially for its street art. With its many facades painted or featuring sculptures or murals of famous people, it is fair to say that Camden Town is one of the best places to discover London’s urban art. You can admire a beautiful portrait of singer Amy Whinehouse or the magnificent works of the talented young French artist Zabou, whose creations can be found mainly in Bethnal Green or Brick Lane.
Shoreditch, a mecca of London street art
In the north of the British capital is the district of Shoreditch. This part of the city is considered the epicentre of urban art in London. The walls of this iconic street art area have been marked by famous international artists. And the many masterpieces to be found in its countless streets (Rivington Street, Redchurch Street, Great Easter Street, etc.) are a real treat for the eyes.
On Holywell Lane, the Underground Village Wall is a real attraction for art lovers. Camille Walala’s famous mural or Stik’s splendid graffiti are all magnificent works of art to be found in this area.
London urban art in Hackney Wick
Hackney Wick is an industrial area in East London. It has one of the largest collections of street art in London. Murals and frescoes by talented and renowned artists can be found in the streets of this area. For example, the works of French artist Thierry Noir, the graffiti of the famous Stik or the colourful creations of Brazilian artist Bailon.
Brixton, the place to be for art lovers
Brixton, a district located in the south of London, has become one of the emblematic places of London Street Art following the Save Brixton Arches campaign. Indeed, during this event, local artists covered a good majority of the walls of this place with graffiti. However, older works dating back to the 1980s and 1990s also mark the façades.
Today, these works of art from different eras delight art lovers who come in great numbers to discover the urban art of the English capital. The iconic David Bowie mural by Jimmy C (James Cochran) in 2013 or the stunning black and white photography by Rotimi Fani-Kayode can be seen here.
London’s famous street artists
It is of course impossible to talk about London street art without referring to those street artists who make the art in London famous. Amongst the most famous, we find :
Banksy: he is one of the founders of London street art. The 300 metre long Leake Street tunnel is named after this famous artist. However, his identity remains unknown to this day, even if he is presumed to be British.
Ben Eine: whose real name is Benjamin Flynn, he is one of London’s most talented street artists. He is known for the large colourful letters he paints. In 2018, he created an impressive 17,000 square metre work (the largest in the world) in the east of the capital.
Bambi: She is nicknamed “the female Banksy” and is one of London’s leading female urban art figures. A committed and active artist, she creates highly successful stencil art.
ROA: Belgian-born urban artist, he is known in London for the gigantic animal murals he has painted on the streets of the capital. Notably, the giant Squirrel or the great Crane in Brick Lane.
Stik: known in London as the ‘stick man’, he has scattered large stick figures of people around the city.
London is a city famous for its street art, which attracts enthusiasts and artists from all over the world. Even if the practice of this art is still forbidden in the English capital, works and frescos can be found everywhere on the walls of several districts of the city.