Street art started out as a bunch of doodles by Bronx teens. In the 1960’s, the hip hop, break dancing, and rap music scene was raging, and the subways were drenched in spray paint. Graffiti artists propagated their messages as the trains rushed throughout the boroughs. The street art bug dispersed all over the country to L.A, Philly, and Miami, then reaching across the seas to London.
East London: International City of Creativity
East London boasted the perfect environment for the growth of European street art. Originally the area was home to a bustling Jewish community, but it died down during the WWII German bombings, destroying buildings and forcing people to flee. In the 1970’s, a wave of Bangladeshi immigrants bought the cheap housing, reinventing the vibrancy of the East End.
The area became very multicultural, accepting of people from all backgrounds. Artists flocked to the area for the creative atmosphere. The neighborhood became the trendy district of Shoreditch – kinda like the Williamsburg of London. Today, Shoreditch is known for its vintage markets, free trade coffee, and artsy farts-y people.
Rise of Banksy and Street Art
Street artists invaded London with force, propping up posters and stickers, vandalizing storefronts, proliferating political messages, making the streets their playground. One of these artists was Banksy. Political activist and stencil graffiti artist from Bristol, Banksy first gained his fame in London through his social commentary, humor, and iconic images. World audiences loved Banksy because his work wasn’t just pretty to look at: it had social meaning and provoked change.
Photo Credit: Jan Slangen
While being praised by the public eye, street artists made enemies. The rise of street artists in East London sparked a turf war with graffiti writers, who believed they were a bunch of attention-hungry art school snobs. In retaliation, graffiti writers defaced artwork. One notable feud is the graffiti war between Banksy and King Robbo.
Artists worldwide are attracted to London’s art scene including ROA. The Belgium artist brought back native animals back to an urban space. In London, you’ll find ROA’s massive murals of a rabbit and rats. To pay homage to multicultural population in East London, ROA painted a large crane, a bird native to Bangladesh.
Exploring a different take on street art, Jonesy is Shoreditch’s best-kept secret for now. The sculptor artist places bronze-worked figures on top of lampposts and street signs. Most people would hardly notice it unless they were looking up. Not much is known about Jonesy, but it seems he only has work in London.
Stik created stick figures. How appropriate? He was never formally trained and was homeless for a period. Now his work is purchased by the art elites. His work below is located in Brick Lane, showing the racial tension towards Bangladeshis. Another known is his portrayal of the London riots.
Inspired by retro arcade games, Invader proliferated space invaders in Paris. Creating the arcade characters through tiles, the street artist has infiltrated the London scene with characters from Star Wars. To create the Luke and Darth Vader piece, he faked a construction zone, wearing the uniforms, and bringing out the cherry picker. Only one police officer approached him, telling him that his boss shouldn’t let him work so late.
Street art has hit every major city. What once was a underground art movement, street art is now building a strong fan base. Camera phones have let people document sightings of artist work and share it with others even after they’ve been covered up. With the rise of social commentators like Banksy, street art has become a respected medium that is often protected by the public and city councils. Now its messages resonate to a wider public.