Exploring the street art of Shoreditch in London’s East End
In recent years Shoreditch has become synonymous with London street art. The art painted on walls and fencing in this historic part of east London is whimsical, abstract, thoughtful, humourous, haunting, disturbing, and beautiful.
Creativity in Shoreditch is not new. It was once the haunt of Elizabethan artists, writers, and creative types. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it had many theatres and music halls. Street art is a more recent addition with its roots in 1980s graffiti culture.
Although both are displayed in public and distinctions sometimes blur, street art is not graffiti. Traditional graffiti is typically based on stylized words. Tagging is done largely to attract attention of other graffiti artists. Street art is more visual and is created for everyone to view. It is painted with permission or is commissioned. Street artists use a variety of mediums, not just spray paint. Many are formally trained and travel the world to create and display their work. Jotopax, the creator of the abstract painting at the top of this post, is from Brazil.
Some of the pieces deal with social justice and world issues. Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot by police in Missouri in 2014 is the subject of the “Don’t Shoot” painting above. Is he waving hello or gesturing someone to stop? Text under the last Don’t Shoot is visible only as white scribbles in the photo, but it reads as follows:
You abuse your powers again and again
Another innocent unarmed soul is murdered in your name
Filthy blue lies flow and flow
You shot him six times for just jaywalking home
Left in a pool of blood on the street
But you think it’s just another day on the beat
Come on justice must be done or anarchy will bite you on the bum
Shoreditch was first settled by brick makers in the 1600s. In the 1700s Huguenots immigrated to Shoreditch and established textile industries. The late 1800s and early 1900s brought many Eastern European Jews. In the 19th century, industry declined and the area became overcrowded and poverty-stricken. Much of Shoreditch was destroyed during the World War II Blitz. Major rebuilding occurred in the 1950s. Rejuvenation of the area occurred in the 1990s. Shoreditch today is trendy, edgy, and artistic.
The “Cycle of Futility” uses Augmented Reality technology. You download a free app onto your phone, point the phone at the wall and see the painting become a whirling animated gif on your phone. Because I did not know this at the time I saw the painting, I didn’t see the animated gif, but it would be a fun thing to try should I make it back to Shoreditch.
Shoreditch streets are full of street art. Several companies offer guided tours, but you can also explore on your. Top-listed streets include Rivington Street, Old Street, Shoreditch High Street, Chance Street, Whitby Street, Holywell Lane, and Sclater Street, but don’t limit yourself to these streets. The art is constantly changing.
The beer yard of the Cargo Club on Rivington is home to “Graffiti Area”, one of the few remaining Banksy pieces still on public display in London. Banksy became famous for his often controversial pieces of art. His work has appeared throughout the world. At one time, a new work would regularly hit London streets, but many have since been erased, painted over, or stolen. Banksy is famous, but anonymous. He keeps his identity secret, although there has been speculation and rumours about who he might be. I saw “Graffiti Area” on my walk through Shoreditch, but unfortunately did not get a photograph.
Street art continues in the area of Brick Lane, which is just a short walk south of Shoreditch. Since the areas merge into each other, you can explore both in the same day as I did, but you may want to consider separate visits because there is just so much art to discover in both. I have written another post covering the street art of Brick Lane.
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