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.
And a giant hand (aka David and Goliath) by Argentinean Martin Ron on Holywell Lane, which took eight days to complete.
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.