The Walls Have Ears (and eyes and tentacles and pigeons)

Every time I go to another city I usually end up taking a tour of some description. Not the hop-on hop-off buses but something to do with food, architecture or music. But I very rarely do it on home turf. Recently, however, I took a walking tour with Alternative London, concentrating on the history, art and architecture of the East End and how it has changed. And changed it certainly has. When I worked in Wapping I used to walk up to Spitalfields Market for lunch from the rather ramshackle but tasty stalls. It was a shock to see the gleaming (and ubiquitous) Wagamamas, Leons, Canteens etc in their place. The old market now looks like a clone of the new King’s Cross Station concourse, albeit with out the trains.

But the main point was to look at the street art. The guide was a young Australian called Keir Ralph, who knew an impressive amount about everything from Hugeunots to hip-hop pigeons (as placed around the streets by artist Ronzo). He also pointed out otherwise hard-to-spot works, including diminutive sculptures and plaques by ‘Jonesy’, rumoured to be a sixty-odd-year-old Welshman, who must be pretty fit for his age, given some of the climbing involved in placing his installations.

Hanbury Street was an early stop – it has Belgian artist Roa’s crane, Guy Denning’s lady’s head and (not shown) Alexis Diaz’s elephant-cum-octopus, which could be an early seventies prog-rock album cover.

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Below is a portrait of Charlie Burns, a Brick lane legend, on Bacon Street, who died in 2012, aged 96, by Ben Slow.
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On the same street, another tribute, this one to Lou Reed, by Dscreet.
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On Brick Lane, one of New Yorker Colette’s augmented street signs.
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And a giant hand (aka David and Goliath) by Argentinean Martin Ron on Holywell Lane, which took eight days to complete.

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You’ll also see work by Swoon, Monster, Mighty Mo, Cranio, the Burning Candy collective, Gold Peg, Sweet Toof, Citizen Kane, Space Invader.. it’s a very worthwhile two hours of re-educating yourself where to look for (and how to look at) street art. At the end you pay what you think the tour is worth – most people gave five or ten pounds. Details on: http://www.alternativeldn.co.uk. Also see: http://streetartlondon.co.uk. Given the ephemeral nature of the art, though, expect there to be a whole new catalogue when you go.

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