The Best Art is Free: East London's Street Art

Last summer I went on an amazing street art walking tour of East London. If you're any way interested in art, graffiti or things that are awesome, and in the area of East London, you need to go and check them out. They have great guides that are art enthusiasts and street artists themselves. Plus it doesn't exactly break the bank, and you get to appreciate an art form that changes with the city. Art that can show up anywhere that is so much more than traditional art forms because it is open to everybody and is free. Many of the artists also use their medium to discuss political issues, but mostly they are really cool.


You can't really talk about street art in London without talking about the biggest gun in the category. The street art phenomenon himself, Banksy. He is a graffiti artist, a political activist, a film director, and painter. Banksy's satirical and subversive street art combines dark humour with stencils and spray paint. His style has been mimicked, his art has been exhibited, sold for hundreds and thousands. His work has been reproduced by many. You can't go to a market anywhere in London, or any other city and not find a reprint of his work. On the subject of people selling his art without his knowledge he said 'as a kid I always dreamt of growing up to be a character in Robin Hood. I just never realized I'd end up playing one of the gold coins'. He has a cult following and it is rumoured he is currently in Belfast, ahead of the Breed art exhibition opening, as his signature rats have started 'popping up'. Its a wonder in this day and age how he has remained anonymous. He has made a film about street art, Exit Through The Gift Shop, which I highly recommend. Although its a bit dated now, it still provides a great insight into the world of street art and how its important to separate the true artists from the posers, like Mr Brainwash. A lot of Banksy's work is now protected, like the image above. Some is still taken down though, so this style of art is transitive and temporary. Which makes it all the more precious.



My personal favourite from the tour. I was completely unaware of his existence. He is in fact one of London's best known and most loved street artists. He is renowned for painting simple, androgynous stick figures which despite their simplicity evoke complex body language and emotion. Of his figures Stik was quoted in Sabotage Times that 'It’s funny that in English we call them stickmen but they’re actually stick people. They’re the essence of a human. That’s what you draw when you’re a kid. It’s beyond gender, race, class and all these adult concepts. It’s something quite pure'. Stik himself experienced homelessness and so his artworks depict themes of human vulnerability. Like Banksy, he too works under a pseudonym, he says it makes him feel like a superhero.

Shephard Fairey.

Fairey was catapulted into the top of the street art scene, and just media in general, during the 2008 presidential elections for his Barack Obama hope poster, which if you haven't seen...where were you in 2008? You've probably seen 'Obey' on t-shirts from all of the high street stores and haven't realized that Fairey is the one who started it. Fairey started off with a sticker campaign of 'Andre the Giant Has a Posse', it was distributed by the skater community and soon showed up all over the US and since then all over the world. Around the same time, Fariey developed his signature image of Andre the Giant with OBEY written underneath. He generally uses quite bold colors and his work is quite political and powerful and has been parodied and reproduced by loads of various other artists including Tenascius D's merch.

 (above not from London)

Christiaan Nagel.

Not all street art is graffiti-style. Nagel is a sculptor from South Africa. He constructs mushrooms, most notably in East London, which are influenced by the Surrealist and Pop-Art Movements. Nagel contrasts the blustering busy city landscape with luminous mushrooms, like a pure idea popping up in a sea of monotone cityscapes and dull grey. He indicates that art is becoming something increasingly more unattainable by placing his 'shrooms at greater heights and in more unexpected and challenging locations, much like his graffiti loving counterparts. Although pre-dominantly a mushroom erector, Nagel is also an artist, with many of his prints available from his website. If you're ever in London, keep an eye out for his mushrooms, they're everywhere and will always put a smile on your face.

Conor Harrington.


Irish born artist who moved over and settled in London. He mixes graffiti with high art techniques to produce massive murals that are deep and dark and powerful, predominantly depicting battle scenes and themes of masculinity. He has painted all over the world and has been exhibited a number of times. Both established as an artist of the traditional sense and the street art style. His work makes you forget that you are walking down an alley around Shoreditch and instantly makes you feel like you're in the National Gallery. His works are on par with the greats from the industrial revolution.


As in the Space Invaders game. In the 90's invaders started popping all over Paris and then in over 40 major cities throughout the world. Invader also recently sent a piece into space!  Invader’s work centres around the increasing surveillance in today’s urban environments and society as a whole. Invader has placed his pieces up high and down low, in not very noticeable places that are so obvious once you discover them. He appeared in Banksy's film and made his own documentary, In Bed with Invader. He's cousins with the infamous Mr. Brainwash but doesn't tend to highlight that relationship too much.


Jimmy C.


Jimmy C is a different kind of street artist. His pieces are more fluid and personal. He attended art school and focused on oil-painting and figurative painting. He already had a background in graffiti - in that he did that - but fused both his own personal style with the more structured techniques from his art training. He has a signature pointillist style which sets his work apart from other artists. Usually very colorful pieces, his works attempt to convey the influence the urban environment has on individuals. He is based in London, originally from Adelaide in Australia.


They are just a few of my favourites but here are a few more snaps I got on the tour:


Ben Eine.







Alexis Dias.

Ben Wilson - who paints on chewing gum.





 Ian Stevenson.

 Angry Face.

So if you're in London, keep an eye out! You'll never know what you'll notice!



Orlaith Costello
Article written by
Orlaith is a Creative Writing graduate from NUI Galway. Hailing from the low lying fields of Athenry, or at least what’s left of the low lying fields. She enjoys the internet as a means of living vicariously through others from the safe confines of her own bed. She will initiate a dance off after at least two drinks on any given night out.
Facebook messenger