London’s street art scene has long been heralded as one of the best in the world. From Camden to Brixton, Hammersmith to Dalston, street art is an ever-present sign of the capital’s creative culture. We all love it, your Brick Lane graffiti selfie even got 40 likes on Instagram! But how much do you actually know about that mural on your profile? Moreover, what about the artist behind it? Here’s my pick of London’s best street artists.
Be sure this is not an exhaustive list. Due to the very nature of this art, it’s all a little secretive. If I’ve missed out any of your favourites, let me know on Twitter.
VAMP (A.K.A. Kristian Holmes)
I’m going to start this list with a pretty controversial entry. Are graffiti and street art the same? Where do you draw the line between style and vandalism? Well in 2013, prolific graffiti artist VAMP was arrested and sentenced to three and half years for acts of ‘vandalism’. The story was big news at the time as VAMP was said to have inflicted up to £250,000 worth of damage. What became even more eye opening was that VAMP wasn’t the stereotypical vandal – he was in fact a 32 year old father of two working as a Surveyor.
The Daily Mail wrote a pretty damning article about VAMP’s hidden career but I can’t help siding with fellow artist Glynn Judd (A.K.A. NOIR). Writing in an article for the Guardian, NOIR speaks of the ‘double-standard in graffiti art’ and asks whether Banksy would suffer the same fate if he was ever convicted. Whatever your views on VAMP’s conviction, it’s hard not to admire his talent.
Next time you’re walking the streets of the capital, pay more attention to the chewing gum. Ben Wilson is an innovative artist who paints tiny images on gum. Don’t underestimate how tough this actually is. He first heats the gum with a blowtorch, sprays it with lacquer, adds enamel and then begins his image. Once it’s complete, he adds another layer of transparent lacquer. There are thousands of Wilson’s gum creations in the capital. If you’re seeking them out, head to the Millennium Bridge or Muswell Hill.
EINE is a seriously interesting artist. He made the transition from graffiti artist (‘vandal’ in the eyes of the Daily Mail) to street art expert. He began experimenting with typography and screenprinting where he produced work for the likes of Banksy. He went on to develop his own unique letting style which now adorns plenty of the capital’s buildings. His work tends to consist of a single word such as ‘Scary’ or ‘Change’ in iconic spots. His most renowned piece is an entire alphabet set upon shop shutters in Middlesex Street.
To anyone who frequents East London on a regular basis, Stik’s simple stick figure graffiti is instantly recognisable. His art, albeit simple, documents complex levels of emotion and vulnerability. What you may not know is that this is intended as a reflection of his own battle with homelessness. The stick figure concept was initially introduced as a way to enable the artist to work quickly (and illegally). Now known around the world, Stik is an artist in demand. You can find his work as far flung as New York and Japan.
Hailing from Mexico but now living in the capital, Pablo Delgado is recognised by his distinctive miniature scenes – most commonly in East London. He first found notoriety in 2011 for his small doorway creations, he then went onto prostitute figures on street corners. He now offers random imaginative artworks that are both stylish and poignant.
Wondering the streets of East London, you’ve probably noticed the occasional mushroom sculpture. This is the infamous work of South African born artist Christaan Nagel. Street Art London describe his work as referencing ‘the notion of art as something ultimately unattainable’. Keep your eyes peeled for these brightly coloured fungi, they’re found in dangerous and illegal places – often rooftops. Having gained plenty of press, these unique sculptures have won the respect of the underground street art scene.
Despite becoming more mainstream by the second, it would be hard not to find place for Banksy in this list. It’s true that he’s not particularly looked upon fondly by the street art community but his work transcended a generation. Collectors, local councils and the media have rallied together to make him an icon of modern art. His politically motivated work once read as social commentary, with hard-hitting meanings and powerful visual metaphors. Today, his art is found on mugs, key rings and t-shirts of teenagers around the world – some would say devaluing its core message.
If you’ve got a favourite London street artist that I haven’t mentioned here, get in touch and let me know.
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