Photo Diaries: Alternative Art in East London

photo diaries

This past Saturday, I went on an Alternative London Walking Tour, which showcased East London’s boundless creativity and outlined the history of  the divide between East London and the City of London. East London has a vibrant culture — and, of course, vibrant streets — so there was no way we were going to miss the graffiti, street art, paste-ups, stencil work and I-don’t-even-know-how-to-describe-it on our walk.

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There’s a difference between street art and graffiti. Graffiti is all about tagging yourself and getting your name out there. Some graffiti artists spray-paint over other peoples’ works to promote your own. Street art is all about creating an eye-catching piece of art that causes passers-by to question their values, to think outside the box.

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Street art may seem similar to graffiti — they are both art on walls, and sometimes they are both illegal — but not all street art are drawings, and not all street art are illegal. These installations feature on top of many poles in East London; you just have to know where to look.

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Sometimes street art can remind you of a favorite artist, or a favorite cartoon. The picture above reminds me of a pop-art Mickey Mouse. Below that, an artist’s painting was defaced. When famous artists make their own street art, some people want to have it, and they try to scrape it off. As you can see, they didn’t end up with the finished product — and neither did we.

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This is an example of street art that makes you think. Stik draws stick figures. He drew these in East London to show the melting pot within the city. Here, a member of the Muslim faith holds hands with a member of the white community. However, this piece also harks back to the history of this acceptance, or lack thereof. The figures may be against a red backdrop to show the pain and suffering that people of different races faced in East London on a daily basis before the city got its act together. The catalyst was a child being beaten to death because of his race.

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This was my favorite bit of street art. I just think there are so many levels to it, and the painting is so well done that it kind of makes me sick. The fox (top of the boy’s head) caught my attention, but then I realized these were portraits — quite possibly self-portraits — aiming to show what might go on in the human mind. The mouths are also particularly frightening on the girl.

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There was so much street art in this one area, by Rough Trade East and the vintage market. I had been here before, but I’d never really looked closely. Here, you can see artist Ronzo (who labels himself as a “vandal extraordinaire”)  made a skateboarding dinosaur fossil. He’s also got a backwards cap, which might mean he’s into hip hop. Pretty fly for a dinosaur! There’s also a Christmas Tree next to it. These Christmas trees are all around East London, and nobody knows who the artist is or why they’re even there, which is pretty funny. Also, the artist next to Ronzo (cut off by my lovely photo skills) made his piece by planting tiny explosives all across the canvas, and thus creating a man’s face within the wall itself. Nobody can ever take it down. Pretty clever, if you ask me.

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Ghetto Pigeon Birdz! Another Ronzo creation. These hip hop pigeons are doing what London pigeons do best — defecating on passers-by. See! It’s mid-poo!

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Okay, so I think I’m a really big fan of Ronzo. This is the Credit Crunch Monster. “The time had come to put a face to the terrifying credit crunch menace. Please welcome Crunchy, the official mascot of the global financial meltdown,” said Ronzo in 2009. He used to be gray, but has since gotten a pimping paint job and now faces the Truman Brewery off of Brick Lane.

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There was so much to see in this area. To the left is a space invader by non other than Invader. He plants these pixellated creatures all around London, but he started in Paris. If you take a map, mark off every location you find a space invader in Paris, and then connect the dots, it’ll make a space invader on the map! He also got to be able to send one INTO SPACE. How cool is that? Below that, a car is crushed by a winged bomb. And behind that — I hope you can see them — are a few posters by Shepard Fairey. Don’t know the name? You should! He created the iconic Obama “Hope” poster.

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This is a recent installation, from right after the London Olympics. It’s Usain Bolt!

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I just think this is absolutely hilarious.

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“Rolling People” was meant t emphasize the history of street art. In the olden days, kids used to take to the streets to imitate their favorite comic books. Hence the explosions. I thought it was really well done. What’s also cool about this picture is that above this wall is an old Jubilee line underground train. It’s still being used though, which is pretty cool!

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This is new, too! A good message, and an awesome print. “Big Love.”

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This piece is so frightening. But I can’t stop looking at it. I think that’s the effect of really good street art: to have to look at it, or to dwell on it for days after seeing it.

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And this over a shoe store. I laughed out loud when I saw it.

The tour was really great, and the best part about it was that it ran on a pay-what-you-like basis. So check out the tour, and ask for Josh! Also, stay tuned for the next Photo Diaries; you might see a glimpse of the English Channel, or even of the beaches in Spain!

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