A new wave of young professionals have moved in, sending property prices sky-rocketing in what was once a working-class neighbourhood between Old Street and Bethnal Green. The boom was kick-started by the likes of British artists Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, who moved in during the Nineties, followed by scores of artistic bohemians.
Today Shoreditch is jam-packed with lofts, galleries, chic bars and restaurants, coffee shops and clubs. But it’s here, interspersed in the maze of odd-angled side-streets, between the über-cool speakeasies and never-before-noticed restaurants (where all the cool kids hang out), that you’ll find the most unpredictable street art.
Street art could be construed as insensitive – even intimidating. Urban graffiti can send a message too and provide a sense of positivity and community belonging – which is the case for most of the works in Shoreditch.
Here murals push the boundaries of contemporary and urban art, all spiced with fun. Some are weirdly wacky, or raw and disturbing; others are in-your-face political statements, but mostly, all they demand is an immediate reaction.
The district’s collages are constantly revived and always astounding. One day you’re mourning the loss of a masterpiece from street staples like Invader, Scavage, Stik or ROA, who provide stunning murals, environmental art and freehand painting; the next day, you’re left breathless at finding a shocking collaboration between the bold political statements of Ronzo and Thierry Noir, graffiti master Dscreet and the Banksy-like Pablo Delgado.
Take a walk down Shoreditch High Street and you’ll see John Dolan, one of East London’s most famous artists. He sits every day with his dog, capturing the details of the architecture that surrounds him. His images enrich the old, decaying buildings, which often aren’t seen by passers-by. Through his vivid portrayals, his audience is forced to reconsider what to them is purely a backdrop to their day.
Zomby is one of London’s most respected graffiti-writers. His instantly recognisable approach and style have exerted an enormous influence over the development of graffiti in the city. Zomby is part of Diabolical DubStars (DDS), one of London’s most productive graffiti crews, who are the undisputed kings of London train graffiti and have been active for more than 20 years.
Be sure to look out for South African-born Christiaan Nagel’s sculptural mushrooms, which are iconic fixtures of East London’s rooftop landscape. His works suggest that art as something ultimately unreachable, as he seeks to place his sculptures at impossible heights and in astonishing locations.
If you come across the catch phrase “Oh my days” spanning an entire wall, you’ve probably found the work of Kid Acne, who paints over-sized idioms on buildings to which people can easily relate. One such message was painted on a wall of his old art college before it was knocked down. It said: “You’ll miss me when I’m gone.”
You’ll recognise the vivid colours and politically inspired work of Frenchman Thierry Noir, a forerunner of the modern street art movement. Throughout the Eighties, he illegally painted kilometres of the Berlin Wall with his iconic imagery, leading up to its fall in 1989. He strove to accomplish one revolutionary act: to radicalise the wall, make it absurd and, ultimately, help destroy it.
Down a side-street, the large-scale architectural freehand work of Jo Peel comes complete with her giant buildings and decaying walls and directly beside that are the chaotic interactions of David Shillinglaw’s colourful, abstract work, interspersed with the multi-faceted human-animal hybrids of Vinz.
Then there are the breathtaking, hyper-realistic murals of Martin Ron, a prestigious professional street artist from Buenos Aires and French speed painter Vivi Mac, who – with no formal training – uses pertinent food and liquids to depict her subjects, like painting Amy Winehouse with red wine and Bob Marley with cannabis leaves.
Across a doorway, Polish illustrator Pawel Kuczynski’s diverse and unpredictable take on the world cleverly highlights serious problems in society. He uses subtle political meanings which he hopes will reshape public thinking. On a windowsill is London-based Simon Key’s work, which is clearly influenced by the Godfather of British humour, Spike Milligan, while on a shutter, Zabou carries the flag for female street artists.
Once you’ve had your fill of the city’s museums and shopping on Oxford Street, take a diversion to Shoreditch – the playful and often startling gateway to comic strip art in London’s East End.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE
Famed for its creativity, great new food scene and buzzing nightlife, Shoreditch has become one of London’s trendiest districts.
- Finding your own way around can be confusing, so take a fun two-hour guided Street Art Tour with Insider London, which provides a knowledgeable local who has all the insider secrets.
- The BoxPark pop-up mall on the London overground train station isn’t a regular shopping centre. It’s a living, fertile community of brands packed with creativity, innovation and attitude. BoxPark is constructed of stripped and refitted shipping containers creating unique, low-cost pop-up stores filled with fashion, lifestyle brands, galleries, cafés and restaurants.
- A lovely basement bar in Shoreditch with a great cocktail list is the Whistling Shop on Worship Street.
- The Hoxton Hotel at 81 Great Eastern Street is a good place to relax.
- On a Friday afternoon, venture upstairs to the Reliance on Old Street. This is a lovely space where you can usually get a table until 6.30pm – rare for a London pub on a weekend.
- Markets: Brick Lane Market: Club Row Square Market and Columbia Rd Market.