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Seeing Eye to Eye on London’s Street Art

by Sheron Long on June 16, 2014

Man using smart phone on bench next to wall with creative street art portraits. (Image © Sheron Long)

In London, the street scene changes depending on the artists and the actors.
photo © Sheron Long

Something Creative This Way Comes . . .

Don’t blink if you’re walking down the street in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood.  You could miss fresh street art and surprising street life.

Take the threesome above. Facebook man has spent so much time online that he turned blue. Does the same fate await the bench sitter with his smart phone, or will the mousey Cupid intervene? It’s a story about to happen in a restricted parking zone with cocktails.

And it comes with controversy. In fact, unsanctioned street art is illegal in London and often removed. Yet, the city itself has added perspex (plastic-like glass) over art by famous street artists, like Banksy, to preserve the works in recognition of their value.

Creative street art by a British street artist known as Banksy, showing a policeman walking a highly groomed poodle in front of a satirical sign that declares the area as one designated for graffiti and requires passersby to take their litter home. (Photo © Sheron Long.

An original Banksy in the artist’s signature stencil style with a satirical message.
Banksy developed his stenciling technique to tag walls quickly, thereby avoiding arrest.
His identity is unknown even after over 25 years of work.
photo © Sheron Long

Portrait of a Street Artist

Just the names of some street artists—Invader, RUN, Dscreet, Broken Fingaz Crew—suggest the stealth of the craft. Working quickly, often with cans of spraypaint, some street artists tag space without permission.

Head of a skeleton with red heart-shaped eyes done illegally in spray paint by a creative street artist. (Photo © Sheron Long)

Oh! What lovely eyes you have, my dear!
photo © Sheron Long

Street artists who ask permission may get it, but often without payment for even complicated works with bedroom eyes.

Woman's portrait painted for free on the doors of a bar by a creative street artist. (Photo © Sheron Long)

Bar beautification, color-coordinated and all for free
photo © Sheron Long

Whether painted illegally or legally through permission or by commission, amazing portraits grace the streets of Shoreditch. Walking tours, like those by Street Art London, take you face-to-face with these portraits.

Conor Harrington of Cork, Ireland, began as a graffiti writer at age 14. After formal art study in college, he now paints indoor and outdoor works that combine his graffiti roots and fine art training. After many successful exhibitions, he says, “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I hadn’t painted on the streets. Simple.”

Commissioned portrait on the door of Tramshed, a Shoreditch restaurant by creative street artist and fine artist, Conor Harrington. (Photo © Sheron Long)

Commissioned portrait of a Napoleonic figure by Conor Harrington
on the door of Tramshed, a Shoreditch restaurant
photo © Sheron Long

El Mac (Miles “Mac” McGregor), inspired at a young age by classic European painters and Art Nouveau symbolists as well as the Chicano culture in his native Los Angeles, studied art independently. He uses a unique style in his street art, applying spraypaint to create a series of repeating contours with a ripple effect.

Portrait of a Mexican cowboy created in one evening by creative street artist, El Mac. (Photo © Sheron Long)

Portrait of a Mexican cowboy created in one evening by El Mac
photo © Sheron Long

Alexandre Farto from Portugal, known as VHILS, creates huge relief portraits from photographs, often of everyday people. He destroys to create, chiseling through layers of ads, plaster, brick, etc., to reveal the faces.

Relief portrait of a man by creative street artist VHILS (Alexandre Farto) chiseled into a Shoreditch wall. (Photo © Sheron Long)

Relief portrait by VHILS (Alexandre Farto) chiseled into a Shoreditch wall
photo © Sheron Long

The Face of a Neighborhood

Street art changes the nature of a neighborhood. Some say it defaces it; others say it gives the neighborhood its face, its character.

Street art also gives disenfranchised artists a voice and a place to showcase their talents when they cannot break into the limited space offered by galleries and museums.

Stik has been creating simple lonely-looking figures for about 15 years, during which he experienced ten years of homelessness. Can you find his figure amidst the pedestrian population of Shoreditch?

Large stick figure on a building at a busy Shoreditch intersection by creative street artist, Stik.  (Photo © Sheron Long)

Large stick figures by Stik began to be noticed in London in 2002
and are now in the art collections of several celebrities.
photo © Sheron Long

His figures have eyes but no other facial features. When you look at them, they look right back at you! Their simplicity (developed initially for speed to avoid arrest) captures body language that conveys complex emotions.

Simple and unassuming stick figure on a building in Shoreditch is from Stik, a creative street artist.  (Photo © Sheron Long)

Simple and unassuming stick figure from Stik is meant only to observe.
photo © Sheron Long

Stik sees street art as essential to a neighborhood in part because it is uncensored and it can spark dialog about issues that matter to its inhabitants.

Look closely and you’ll see the message in this urban art by Chilean-born Osch (Otto Schade), who trained as an architect and then turned his passion to painting. He now lives in London and adds his voice to the street art scene.

Creative street art in which a young child looks like he is picking fruit from a tree, but the fruit is really hand grenades. (Photo © Sheron Long)

A voice against war speaks up.
photo © Sheron Long

Ever-Changing Images

Because people and the concerns in a neighborhood are constantly changing, so is the street art. This wall started with a legal image of the wasp by Zadok of the Dead Leg Crew. The owner of the wall, who gave permission, was pleased with the image.

Creative street art showing a large, green wasp on a wall in Shoreditch. (Photo © Sheron Long)

This wasp landed legally on the wall, beautifying a busy intersection.
photo © Sheron Long

But tagging invites tagging and soon a portrait of Mother Earth appeared, created in a compatible style by Paul Don Smith, along with a geometric pattern by Endless.

Creative street art wall showing the additions by other artists of a wispy portrait, geometric patterns, and a modern illustration of a man as a faucet. (Photo © Sheron Long)

Enhancements emerged in the trail of the original wasp.
photo © Sheron Long

Then Smith stenciled in the man in a bowler hat (a sure tie to bankers) with a faucet on his head and a social commentary about the flow of money. When it comes to street art, change is, as written in the signature of one of the artists, endless.

Oh, I See

Just as street art is ever-changing, so are the views of it. Is street art vandalism? Does it give talent a chance to shine? How do you see it? Take our poll and check any statements with which you agree.

Poll SpacerPoll Spacer

There may be more to creative street art than meets the eye. Check back in a week or so and see how many of you see eye to eye.

With many thanks to Karim at Street Art Tours for a fascinating walk through Shoreditch. Find more on the fleeting nature of street art and on interesting interactions of people and street art. 

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.

 
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