What is art? Big question, that. If you went out and asked a hundred passers-by, you’d probably get a hundred different answers. But most of them would probably mention things like paintings, sculpture and galleries, or would refer to famous artists or other well-known individuals and institutions within the art establishment.
All of those would certainly be valid answers to the question I posed above – but art doesn’t have to be confined by the gallery setting, just as it doesn’t have to be confined by our own or critical expectations and archetypes. And street art refuses to be confined by anything.
Street art is democratic art: literally the art of the street, and thus art for everyone, art to be seen by anyone. Sometimes political, sometimes philosophical, sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes simply eye-catching. You don’t have to go to a gallery to see street art – or even be the type of person who visits art galleries in the first place.
I’ve long been fascinated by the transient nature of street art. It can be here today and gone tomorrow at the whim of the council or the landlord’s paintbrush – or even the spraycan of a rival artist. Posters and stickers can easily be peeled off or painted over – or added to a pre-existing work. A highly-decorated wall can change its appearance quite literally overnight.
As a result of this fascination, for the last couple of years I have been attempting to document the street art I come across in my travels around London, returning to the same sites over and over again to record the changes I see there each time. This ongoing project has taken me to all sorts of places in almost every corner of the city.
Some of these places, like Hanbury Street in the East End and Leake Street in Waterloo, are regularly used by artists and change rapidly and dramatically. The street art in other corners of the capital is added to quietly and gradually and rarely changes. But however it happens, it’s all fascinating.
The slideshow above shows some recent images captured in one of my favourite parts of London for street art – the area around Shoreditch and Brick Lane in the East End. This is a vibrant and colourful part of the city, a compact area of contrasts in which you immediately gain a sense of hundreds of years of history and thousands of different cultural outlooks, all jostling for space and time and attention.
Every time I visit, there is new art to see – the pictures above represent a fraction of the many different street art pieces I have photographed in this area over the last two years. You can find a selection of these older street art images from the East End and various other parts of London here.
For even more amazing street art images, check out the Signs and Murals and Graffiti pages on Paul Talling’s truly fascinating Derelict London site. Warning: you may lose a good few hours of your life exploring Talling’s evocative and strangely beautiful pictures…