I recently went on a spur of the moment trip to London courtesy of an awesome friend who travels all over the world for work and has lots of miles to spare. Thanks again, awesome friend! I loved just about everything in London – the architecture, the accents, the history and did I mention accents? Those doorman with tuxedos and top hats on weren’t bad either – way to make a gal feel like royalty. And, it was sunny the entire time I was there which like never happens. So, all in all, it was a pretty magical time. But when people ask me what my favorite part of my trip was I have to say it was taking a walking tour of Shoreditch, the mecca of London’s street art culture.
Being an avid Hip Hop and graffiti enthusiast stateside, when scoping out things to do across the pond I immediately thought: Banksy. I figured there must be something graffiti-related to see there so I took to Google and found there are numerous street art tours. By way of TripAdvisor testimonials and my wonky schedule, I ended up booking a tour with Dave from Shoreditch Street Art Tours. What a good thing too, because he ended up being quite an authority about the artists and the scene in London having covered it in his blog for the past 10 years. If you don’t believe me, just ask Complex.com, who enlisted his help for this piece on Shoreditch’s top 25 street artists.
I left with a new understanding of what street art is vs graffiti (different audiences, different techniques, different messages) and a slew of new European artists to follow online. After the outing, I caught up with Dave who besides being principal tour guide of Shoreditch Street Art Tours is a photographer and writer to learn how he got his start. Check out what he has to say about Banksy, the newcomers he is excited about, and see some of my amateur pics below.
How did you get involved with the street art scene in London? What was your introduction?
Someone showed me some work by Banksy in about 2003. I noticed that his work was in Shoreditch near where I worked and out in the Portobello Road area near where I lived. I started taking an interest in street art, started photographing it, then started writing about it, in the mid 2000s.
How did the idea to start doing the Shoreditch Street Art Tours come about? How long have you been doing them?
Back in 2008 a lot of street artists were contributing art work to a charity auction, I am not an artist so I came up with the idea of doing street art tours with all the proceeds going to the charity, so my coblogger on Graffoto and I ran Londons’s first scheduled public general street art tours in London. The real inspiration came from the original 2006 Banksy Tours run by my other Graffoto co-blogger Shellshock which I was lucky to enjoy and be a part of.
What do love about the street art scene after 10 years of following it?
I love the constant variety, the spirit of un-curated art created by anybody for everybody. It never stands still.
On the tour we saw some street art tagged over. Can you explain why that is considered “OK” to do? Is there an unspoken hierarchy when it comes street art?
There are un-written rules and a “hierarchy” in which lesser forms of art and graffiti are not supposed to go over higher forms. However, this sits a little uncomfortably in a scene which at its heart is based upon breaking the rules and usually the rules are remembered or “forgotten” at the convenience of each individual artist from time to time.
What is the allure of Banksy? Why is he considered one of the best street artists of all time?
Banksy is a brilliant cartoonist, we all get his jokes and we love the Robin Hood nature of his anonymous character. We all secret admire his ability to get one over the authority with impunity.
When I took your tour a week ago I don’t think Banksy had been active in London for awhile. but I read somewhere that he recently did a tribute piece for a fellow artist that passed. Have you seen this piece? If so, can you talk about it?
Banksy did a tribute piece to Robbo on the canal in Camden in November 2011. This was after his nemesis Robbo had a serious accident which left him in a coma. Sadly, Robbo never recovered and passed away last week, RIP. Banksy has updated the front page of his website to say simply Robbo WRH WD PFB – R.I.P. The first three sets of initials stand for the crews he was in.
Who are some other artists from London that are pioneers or have paved the way?
I look back to street artists active in the very early 2000s D*Face, Mysterious Al, Dave The Chimp, Adam Neate as a small representative sample of artists active in the early days.
Which up-and-coming artists are you excited about right now in London and why?
What artists outside of the UK are you a fan of?
There isn’t space to list the huge number of international artists whose work I enjoy.
You recently did a Top 25 list for complex.com, how did that come about?
I was asked when they were looking for someone who knew a bit about street art specifically in Shoreditch.
Where can people find more information about you and what you do online?
Over the years most of my writing has appeared on the blog Graffoto which has accidentally developed into an interesting historic archive. I have been posting my street art and graffiti photographs for about 6 years on the flickr website, though I was very skeptical before that about the motives of why people shared photographs of graffiti on the Internet, it took a couple of years of nagging by my now my co-blogger HowAboutNo to persuade me to upload my photographs onto the internet from our joint daily street art photography wanders in those days. Now, I probably write more on the Shoreditch Street Art Tours blog.
What do you think the role of internet is in street art today? Is it a positive influence or negative?
Generally positive in that it opens eyes to the possibilities of what is being created now and what can be achieved.