Camden Town has long been synonymous with subculture. Simply stepping out the underground station sees you confronted with every possible fashion you can think of. Punks with enormous coloured manes rub shoulders with emo kids while groups of skaters in freshly brought Vans roll by. One of the greatest things about London is its ability to incubate so many vibrant styles and expressions of creativity. In particular, I’m talking about the boom in street art. To discover more about this new wave or urban creativity, Kasha and I joined Camden Street Art Tours to explore some of the most awe-inspiring artwork you can find in the capital.
The two-hour walking tour meets at Camden Town tube station, with a maximum group of around 30, but when we went it was a more comfortable size of around 10. Our guide, Nelly, was incredibly knowledgeable, sharing some of her insights about the state of street art in the modern age.
In a post-Banksy world, mainstream attention has turned perceptions of what was once considered a dirty word – graffiti – into the idea that a street artist can in fact creates politically driven masterpieces. This change in perception has led to a market for legal wall space. Across London various different administrative bodies have sprung up to help artists to find places to work, and connect them with businesses who want their work.
For more info on this, check out this great Ted Talk with Lee Bofkin, co-founder of Global Street Art (GSA).
Essentially though, this means high-quality legal artwork across London, sounds like a win win right? The best part of it all, is that these incredible bursts of creativity are 100% free to enjoy 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It was interesting to learn, that just like many of Banksy’s work, some paintings are now so valuable that the walls themselves are being taken off the building and sold off to the highest bidder.
While this moneymaking is frowned upon in the community, graffiti artists aren’t precious; they understand that the very nature of their work is not meant to last. It’s truly fascinating to glimpse under the curtain at a fluid, constantly evolving art form that uses the landscape itself to tell a story.
If you’ve never taken the time to really study street art, it can be incredibly eye-opening. Stencil work sits alongside photorealism, colourful calligraphy on the same wall space as abstract artwork. What is particularly moving however, is when you consider that the impermanence of this type of expression means every new artwork is a fleeting moment, one that can disappear in a second.
The positive to this, of course, is that the city becomes a walkable art gallery that can change overnight. With over a thousand legal street art walls managed by GSA alone, you don’t need to look far to find the best artists sharing their work, but you do need to know how to find them.
I’d recommend this tour to anyone with a love of art, but I’d also say it’s perfect for anyone looking for a unique perspective of London, a view that highlights a living, breathing subculture hiding in plain sight.
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Note: This tour was provided complimentary by Camden Street Art Tours, but as always my views on this kick ass tour are entirely my own.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, why not check out my experience of the wonderfully weird 7 Noses of Soho tour…