Seven Things I Learned on a Street Art Tour of Shoreditch

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Having always admired the street art in the Shoreditch area of London, I was excited to take a tour with Alternative London Tours.  These tours had been recommended by a friend who had previously taken the London Walking Tour by this company.  A group of us booked a private tour and workshop through Alternative London tours where we were able to have a street art tour followed by a hands-on workshop.  Having been in the neighbourhood previously, I was familiar with the area’s street art.  I learned so much from my street art tour of Shoreditch, however, that I have a new-found appreciation for it.

Street Art in Shoreditch

The Shoreditch area has become synonymous with young creatives in London. Located in East London, the area was taken over by people priced out of rapidly rising costs in more traditional areas of west London.  These newcomers, of course, priced out the locals who lived in the area – the working class and Bangladeshi immigrant communities.  Along with the young trend setters, you got the boutique hotels, hip bars, art galleries and great restaurants.  All this gentrification provides plenty of wall space and hoarding to put up street art.

street art in the trendy area of Shoreditch in London

You can find the most street art in any area of London in Shoreditch.  Everywhere you turn there is something to catch your eye.  Some of the works are put up with the approval of the owners of the property who think it will attract people to check out their businesses.  Permission also allows the artist to spend time putting up a more complicated piece of work. The works without permission have to be put up quickly because vandalism is a crime.

The Street Art Tour of Shoreditch

By its ephemeral nature, he actual street art in Shoreditch is ever changing.  On the other hand, you know there will always be plenty of it to see in Shoreditch.  Although our tour took about 2 hours, we did not actually go very far because there is so much packed into a small area.

street art in the trendy area of Shoreditch in London

Street art appears in lots of different mediums.

I’m used to street art being painted like the murals I saw at the Berlin Wall, the buildings of Houston Texas or Batman Alley in Sao Paulo in Brasil.

Shoreditch is like a giant open air art gallery or art fair.  You get such variety in the works – stencils, paste-ups, tags etc.  Just like any art gallery, not all of the work is great quality.  I saw some stuff that looked like it could have been a 70’s era velvet painting.  Who knows?  Maybe, it’s retro chic and I just missed the hipster irony.

street art in Shoreditch
This is the work of Benjamin Murphy who uses electrical tape.
street art in shoreditch
A work by Dr. Cream – paper stuck onto a wall.
street art in Shoreditch
Citizen Kane works with resin.
street art in Shoreditch
This guy likes to put polyfilla mushrooms on top of buildings.
street art in shoreditch
Gregor is a French artist who casts his face into sculpture and then sticks the result on walls around the world.
street art in shoreditch
This artist just adds his work onto street signs.
street art in Shoreditch
Jones makes bronze sculptures that fit specifically into holes he finds around the city. This piece is plugged into the hole on top of a street pole.

Street artists are moving online.

French street artist Invader has his own app (Flash Invaders) where you can search for his work and win points when you find them. Think geocaching for street art.   He has put his distinctive work in about 65 countries.  His work refers to the early pixelated video games of the 80’s such as Space Invaders.  The highest scorer on the Flash Invaders game has found over 1000 pieces of art. This guy is prolific!  (No cheating – the sites you enter are checked by GPS so that you can’t just pretend to have found his work!).

street art in Shoreditch
Invader has a signature style based on 80s video games.

British urban artist, Insa, creates “gif-iti” which is a term he coined to describe his works.  He puts hand-painted art up on the street, and then when you view them through his app, they become animated gifs.

street art in shoreditch
A small version of Insa gif-iti

As stated on his website, his gif-iti become “...slices of infinite un-reality, cutting edge art for the tumblr generation.”

Check out his work on tumblr (a natural choice as the home of the gif).  His website, Insaland, even has a store where you can buy his works.  (What did Napoleon say about Britain being a nation of shopkeepers?)  Even a British avant-garde urban artist has an online shop.

Street artists are not all youngsters.

This poignant piece of work was created by Citizen Kane in memory of his son who killed himself.  He was making sculpture out of foam and Fimo in the 1980’s so you figure he’s got to at least 35 years old.

street art in shoreditch
A work by Citizen Kane entitled portal.

Our guide told us that he had been to a recent birthday party for Australian street artist, Jimmy C.  A little digging (ok, Wikipedia) reveals Jimmy C was born in 1973 making him currently 41 years old.  By the way, this work took 8 hours to do (which obviously required the cooperation of the building’s owner).  I’m impressed at how fast he could do this work!

street art in Shoreditch London
A work by Jimmie C

Shoreditch has street art from artists around the world.

I was surprised by how much of the street art in Shoreditch is from artists around the world.  For example, Roa is a Belgian street artist whose works also appear in other major cities like New York, Berlin and Paris.

street art in shoreditch
Roa’s work involves monochromatic wild animals.
street art in Shoreditch in London
Another grayscale animal by Roa.

Street art can convey subtle political messages.

Thanks to the anonymity of street artists it encourages freedom of expression.  And, not all of it has to have the hit-you-over-the-head messages from the Berlin Wall.

Check out this work by French graphically-trained urban artist Zabou who now lives in London.  She, too, has an online store on her website.

street art in shoreditch
A work by Zabou about children and war (paint).

Stik is a home-grown talent who likes to paint these distinctive stick figures.  It’s amazing how much emotion can be conveyed in a simple stick figure.

shoreditch street art
This stick man is definitely giving the neighbourhood the side-eye.

Street artists may choose to work with the establishment.

French urban artist, Invader, mentioned above, collaborated with NASA to send a piece of contemporary art into space to put in the International Space Station.

British artist, Ben Eine (say it fast – get it??), has had a series of gallery shows around the world.  His work has been bought by the Obamas and hangs in the White House.

street art in shoreditch
Ben Eine is known for his colourful work using typography.
street art in Shoreditch
Art under an over pass.

Perceived value is everything.

There’s about a half-million in difference in price between these two pieces of art. The top one is by British street artist superstar Banksy and is covered in a plastic protective cover.  The second one is by Bambi, another British artist.  She has been hailed as a female Banksy but has yet to achieve the astronomic prices. By the way, here’s a comprehensive list of Banksy street art you can still see in London.

street art in Shoreditch
Banksy street art protected by a plastic covering.
street art in Shoreditch
You can see the similarities between Banksy and Bambi.

This piece is by Frenchman Thierry Noir who is believed to be the first person to have painted a mural on the Berlin Wall.  This work is located right next to the Banksy work shown above but is not covered in plastic covering.  It sits behind trash bins and you can see the effect the constant banging of the bins has had on the work.

street art in shoreditch
A work by Thierry Noir partially hidden by bin.

Create Your Own Street Art Workshop

Wow! I learned quickly that spray can artwork is a hard medium to master.  I have new found respect for street artists who can quickly throw up a piece of art in a matter of minutes.  Apparently it takes 7 minutes from being spotted to having the police show up to disrupt your creativity.

I won’t embarrass myself with the work I produced.  Currently hanging in my daughter’s room, my piece has pink and green stars and a black unicorn.  It’s very Taylor Swift and she loves it.

This photo is of my friend who is a real artist – which no doubt you can tell by how great her first effort at spray painting came out.

street art in Shoreditch
Lost in creativity.

Details on the Street Art Tour

Alternative Tours London runs tours in Shoreditch regularly covering a variety of topics including street art.  I found our guide knowledgeable and enthusiastic.  A street artist himself, he could have spent hours talking about street art.  The workshop, held in Hackney near Columbia Road, was also a lot of fun. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would because I am terrible at creating art.  My forte is definitely more art appreciation than art creation.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m thinking of doing a workshop with my daughter.


Shoreditch, London has become a symbol of the city’s creativity. The street art in Shoreditch is incredible, and there is no better way to discover it than by taking a Shoreditch street art tour with Alternative London Tours. Discover why I liked so much this tour of Shoreditch street art murals, and why you will want to join it too.
Shoreditch, London has become a symbol of the city’s creativity. The street art in Shoreditch
is incredible, and there is no better way to discover it than by taking a Shoreditch street art
tour with Alternative London Tours. Discover why I liked so much this tour of Shoreditch
street art murals, and why you will want to join it too.

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6 thoughts on “Seven Things I Learned on a Street Art Tour of Shoreditch”

  1. This is so interesting! There’s so much street art around East London it’s great to be able to dissect it and learn more about the different styles and artists. I’d like to take one of these tours. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

  2. This sounds fascinating – I’ve read about a few street art tours, and they always seem such an interesting way to see a city but I’ve never tried one myself (although I did spot the rat – I think! – last weekend as we were driving through London). It’s so interesting to discover how much more there is to it, with the different artists and countries, plus all the different styles. #citytripping

  3. We also took the Alternative London Street Art tour and I loved the art! What I didn’t like so much was the political rantings of our guide. A little slant is fine, but over 50% of his tour was not about the art itself, but his irritation with the establishment, rising rent prices and the changing face of the area.

  4. I’ve been wanting to do this tour of London for ages! It’s funny how much detail there is that must go unnoticed every day by hundreds of people walking by, thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. I like that it is a changing cityscape. The details are ever moving so what you see may not be there next time.

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