Archive for the 'London' Category

Street Art Pictures: London, Spain, Morocco and Portugal

First, a disclaimer: I don’t profess to be any kind of expert in street art. Or even a novice, really. I just know that, when I spot a fresh stencil or spy some sick piece, it makes me smile—and, if I happen to have a camera with me, snap some photos.

I guess the thing about street art is the sense of place it evokes—which one naturally notices more when one is traveling, seeing a city with fresh eyes. As the world gets smaller, regionalism can be hard to find; this is especially true in the Westernized world. Traveling in Western Europe, you constantly see the same chainstores, the same brands, the same fashions—girls are wearing whatever’s hip at H&M everywhere from Malmo to Madison (and I’d like to say myself excluded, but that would be a lie). Street art, whether it’s good or not, shatters through that; its viscerality marks a place, claims it, and if you’re traveling, can often reveal a lot more about where you are than reconstructed period buildings and restaurants with picture menus (really, paella all kinda looks the same).

I hung around some East Bay graf kids for a time, and still smile when I see their tags around town. A repeated stencil, a tag, a distinctive style—they’re like recurring images from a dream, someone else’s dream, and you catch little glimpses, train your eyes to look down alleys and up at overpasses, and you feel like you’re in on something. It grounds you in a very tangible way, connects you with the phantoms that sneak around at 3am with backpacks full of clanging illegality, with their finger-staining passions and illicit dreams. Of course, I was never one of them; a certain romance remains when it’s not you getting arrested or jumped in some strange turf battle. But I will say you interact with a city—its architecture and landscape, its thingness—differently when you’re even vaguely in tune with its street art. And when you’re traveling, it can often be your only contact with the night-crawling kids that in large part create the pulse of a place.

My first stop on my trip was London, where I of course went on an all-day goose chase for Banksy (chronicled here). The hunt also took me past several of these digitized little fellows by Invader..

Super poor picture quality, but what can you expect from a 2am street lamp and a mediocre camera? This I spotted in Madrid, near Plaza Sol. If you can't tell, it's two tangoing figures with security cameras for heads.

Granada generally had some piss-poor graffiti and stencils, but this one made me laugh. Totally fitting for a college town.

I spotted this one several times around the beach breakers in Tarifa. The sentiment jived well with the surf-town vibe, and the fact that it was in English spoke to the internationalism of the unassuming little place-between-places.

As you might guess, there wasn't a whole lot of street art going on in Morocco, or at least in the places I went. What one does see a lot of is stenciled Muslim calendars, on the side of buildings, with icons depicting certain holidays and dates. My favorite was the rose. I of course have no idea what it denoted or what the Arabic says, and retained none of the heavily accented, half-French explanations.

But of course, the best stencil piece I saw was in one of my favorite dirt-road beach towns, Mirleft. Popular with vacationing Marrakeshis, artists, dreadlocked travelers and, well, me, Mirleft seemed a perfect place to find this, peeling away on a side street.

Back in Europe, much of Lisbon's street art had a distinctive Brazilian flavor, which makes sense considering the city's large Afro-Brazilian population, and the fact that São Paulo and Rio are some of the biggest and baddest producers of street art in the world. I saw this stencil around the center, around uber-hip Barrio Alto.

And this was a simply incredible wheatpasted portrait over near the Alfama district.

Another college town, Coimbra had a fair amount of politicized stencils. This one was especially interesting given the prevalence of domestic violence in Portugal, and the pervading stigma against seeking help: "Every 2 weeks, a Portuguese victim of domestic violence dies." The number is a little more somber when you consider the small country's population of 10 million.

On the flip side, this was just awesome.

And I quite liked this one as well.

But the place that really took the cake was Porto. Good ole unsuspecting Porto, forever in the shiny, smiley shadow of Lisbon. These were all taken near hip-slick-and-cool Rue Miguel Bombara.

The paper cranes were part of the 1000 Tsuri Project. They acted like punctuation, all over the walls of the street, serving as both a kind of visual break and space filler between the other pieces.

Part of a larger project by artist Costah; check more out here: http://www.costah.net/the-icons.html

This little girl is up a few places; each time, she's touching something different. From what I could tell, this was the logo of a nearby art gallery/collective.

One my favorites. Simple but expressive, and totally took me aback when I spotted it down an alley.

I don’t know if these reveal any more about the places I was in, but to me they do. And if nothing else, they’re better than cell phone ads.

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In Search of Banksy: 30 pounds and 48 hours in London

DSCN2994There´s nothing like a good ole map-less search for illegal art through the streets of a foreign city to get you off the tourist track.

Call it my guide to ¨spending less and seeing more¨: extend your flight connection from an hour and a half to 48, crash with a family friend in Brixton, and set out on a scavenger´s hunt through one of world´s most expensive cities for illusive works of a notorious street artist. Arm yourself with nothing more than a transit day pass (5.6 pounds), a scribbled scrap of notes from a Banksy locations website, no guidebook or map, and a long-time London resident down for the quest. You´ll trapse through the heart of the city, through 2 ethnic neighborhoods, 2 gentrified hipster havens and an unabashed tourist trap; take 4 tube rides, 3 buses and walk an estimated 5 miles; pop into 2 galleries and 1 museum; sip cappuccinos on a roof-top cafe (2 pounds), munch on Jamaican patties at an Afro-Carribean market (2.5 pounds), and down some killer dal at a Pakinstani restaurant (17 pounds, with hella leftovers). You´ll venture down abandoned tunnels and crumbling back alleys as you tour the city´s sweet, tender underbelly, swollen with bright colors and pealing wheatpaste. And all for less than the Lonely Planet shoestringer budget.

Bristol-native Banksy has become synonymous with street art, his satyrical, subversive large-scale stencils offering poignant and humorous statements on politics, culture, capitalism. While his pieces have popped up in cities around the world (an apparent traveler himself), London is one of the hotbeds. The ephemeral nature of street art makes finding his work a kind of wild goose chase.

DSCN2972New Zealand native, world-travler and 30-year London resident Dave served as my gracious host and personal guide extraordinaire. We began at the Waterloo tunnel, once a Eurostar passageway, once abandoned, now a designated graffiti area. None of Banksy´s work remains, but lots of other bright colors and politized stencils fill the surprisingly clean, un-urine-smelling underground area. We rambled along the brown, gurgling Thames to the Tate Modern, sister museum to the Tate Britain, one of the museums hit in Banksy´s guerilla art hanging. We checked out the excellent Futurism exhibit (which warrants its own post), making use of Dave´s free +1 entry.

Our search took us through two once-funky, now-trendy gentrified neighborhoods, the Angel and Old Street areas. We passed a crosslegged girl working on a legit piece on the exterior of a hip nightclub, a one-time poppin gay bar that was ¨the perfect mix of seedy and interesting,¨ Dave sighed in bittersweet nostalgia. Amid the antique stores and vintage shops of Angel, we at last found a Banksy. Preserved under plate glass like the Mona Lisa, I posed next to the children pledging a Tesco shopping bag (of course, I forgot my camera cord at home, so you´ll have to wait for the proof).

DSCN3006We found another Banksy on a quiet sidestreet off of unabashed tourist trap/hipster hangout Brick Lane. The first half of the blocks we walked were wall-to-wall Indian restaurants, with pushy male touts outside jostling for patronage; I think they´d find more success if they employed the Latin American method and used smokin hot girls in skimpy clothing. The street morphed into uber-cool bar and pub land, and that´s where we found the most street art of our mission. My favorite was a collage of corporate logos composing the now-commodified famous image of Che. The Banksy we found was several blocks from the hubbub, a painter sitting next to a large yellow flower. The words ¨vandals found vandalising this vandalism will be prosecuted¨ appeared right beside the large spray of paint covering the stencil´s face.

One of my visit´s sub-missions was to find one of those Cockney ATMs; while that searched proved unfruitful, it did bring us to bomb-ass Tayab, a Pakistani restaurant doing a cafeteria-style smorgasborg for Ramadan. I wisely stocked up on minced meat pastries for my next day´s flight, as well as enough leftovers for a spicy breakfast.

DSCN3018Another culinary and culture highlight was our next morning´s stroll through the Brixton Market, the pulsing heart of the Afro-Carribean Brixton neighborhood. African flags and fabrics, produce-selling mom and pops, Bob Marley tapestries, Obama t-shirts, Rasta onesies and pot-leaf-adorned everythings filled with multi-block indoor/outdoor bazaar of bad-assedness. There wasn´t a single corporate logo in sight, and as I sipped on a Buffalo-milk cappuccino and watched passerbys, I couldn´t help but feel my 48-hour powertour had provided me with a pretty good glimpse of the London in which locals live, graffiti-adorned, cumin-scented and throbbing with life.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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