You probably recognise Alex’s name if you’ve been reading LLO for a while. I often photography because he has one of the most extensive collections of London’s street art that I’ve seen. It’s a hobby of his, to go out hunting for pieces that are newly created and photograph them before they disappear. He’s not an artist himself, but his knowledge of the street art scene and the artists who contribute their work to the walls of London is second to none.
I had a chance to pick Alex’s brain about some of the best artists on the scene right now, the hottest places in London to go looking (without bumping up for a street art tour), and how he thinks the Olympics will change the graffiti and street art scene in the city.
All photos included were taken by Alex.
LLO: You have one of London’s best graffiti and street art photography collections on Flickr. Why the interest? Are you an artist yourself? Or an admirer?
AE: Thank you. No, I’m not a street artist myself, just a very devoted follower. Although I studied art at college I think I do a better job documenting it than I would creating street work myself. And besides, I’d feel too self-conscious painting in public! I was given a copy of Subway Art when I was younger and Banksy emerged soon after, and combined they began what escalated to a full-on obsession about five years ago. I started by mainly looking for Banksy’s work until I began to notice other artists’ work everywhere. This was before I was using the internet so I didn’t even know the names of any other street artists. Of course when I started I was shooting on film so there was a limit to how much I could photograph, but when I got my first digital camera I could start photographing everything I found. Of course now there’s so much work everywhere I’ve had to start being a lot more selective!
LLO: How often do you go hunting for new work?
AE: Generally once a week. Living outside London means I can usually only visit on Sundays so I have to cover an awful lot of ground in one day. I tend to spend the first half of each week sorting and editing the previous Sundays pictures, then the tail end of the week is more geared towards planning the next Sunday. I have many, many scraps of paper, lists of locations and pieces I haven’t found yet. So much new work goes up every week, it’s hard keeping on top of it all.
LLO: Who’s your favourite graffiti artist right now? Street artist?
AE: That’s a tough one! It’s very hard to pick a favourite. Anyone following my Flickr page will know I’m particularly devoted to the Burning Candy crew, members past and present, especially Rowdy, Sweet Toof, Mighty Mo and Gold Peg (in no order of preference). I’m sure everyone in London must be familiar with the painted monkey faces and pegs on rooftops, and bright pink gums and teeth everywhere! I love the way that they do what is unquestionably graffiti – tags, drippy rooftop roller pieces, etc, and then they do the complete opposite indoors for galleries. I find it fascinating that someone who can produce quite beautiful, almost traditional, paintings can also go along a street doing what a lot of people consider “messy” tags.
I guess my favourite particular graffiti writers at the moment would have to include Masika, Owed, Neka, Temp32, Snoe, Vibes… Crews would include ATG, OPD, LB and 1T.
As for street artists my absolute favourite, although he doesn’t work in London that often, has to be Phlegm. He makes huge, mind-blowing, black and white murals, illustrations from another time and place. There’s no-one else working on his level at the moment, he just goes from strength to strength. Although you need to go to Sheffield to fully appreciate what he does, there are a few existing pieces in London, the largest being on Heneage St, off Brick Lane.
I love Kid Acne’s work too, and Public Spirit, who does the multi-styled teardrop-shaped stickers, and Curly’s words of wisdom written on US postal labels you see stuck up everywhere.
And of course Malarky, the king of colourful shop shutters!
I’ve been trying to strike a balance between legal graffiti and street art with the illegal stuff, but with a lot of the art around Brick Lane in particular being permission-based it can often feel a bit too safe and sanitised. With the exception of the artists I’ve just mentioned I’ve been leaning a lot more towards illegal graffiti recently. I have a lot more respect for those that take sometimes insane risks to get their work up.
LLO: London’s hottest graffiti/street art hunting spots?
AE: The obvious ones are Shoreditch, Brick Lane and the entire surrounding areas, but while there’s always a reason to go there it has become a bit too saturated now. I prefer to go hunting away from the crowds. There’s lots to be found west, especially around Ladbroke Grove. There’s often good work all along the canal, from the west all the way to Hackney Wick. Some of my best finds this year have been around Camden and Kentish Town. And there’s some nice spots further east, and north, well off the beaten track. There’s always hidden treasures to be found around Hackney Wick and Bow. In truth it is everywhere, you just have to look. When you start really looking for stuff it becomes inescapable.
LLO: What do you think of all these street art tours that are popping up lately?
AE: I have a very low opinion of them I’m afraid! It wouldn’t be so bad if they actually knew what they were talking about. On the few occasions I’ve crossed paths with one they were coming out with complete tosh, and people actually pay for the experience! They’d do better learning online about who does what, and why and where, then go out exploring on their own. You don’t need to go on a tour.
LLO: How do you think the Olympics have or will change the graffiti/street art scene in East London?
AE: Good question. It’s been tough recently, seeing all the main London tracksides completely buffed, a lot of history gone forever, and a fair amount of street pieces painted over, but of course it does mean we now how many huge blank canvases. And with the authorities’ graffiti removal squads surely blowing their entire annual budget in the weeks leading up to the Olympics, anything which goes up afterwards should be safe from the buff for a while. In the long-term I don’t think the effect will be as bad as a lot of us had feared. I just hope Hackney Wick doesn’t become too sanitised.
LLO: When you’re not photographing art, where’s your favourite place to take your camera?
AE: I spend so much time photographing art that hardly anything else gets a look in anymore. When I get the chance though I do enjoy night-time photography, buildings and bridges, anything with nice illuminations, and I’ve got a thing about reflections recently. I like walking through the City at night when there’s few people around. I love the City churches and churchyards, where nothing has changed in hundreds of years. And I love any industrial wasteland, whether there’s graffiti there or not, and anywhere where there’s no people. Such places do exist in London!
You can also find Alex on Flickr.
For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.