The coronavirus rules have relaxed and London is (mostly) open for business again. In celebration, we’ve compiled the first in an occasional series of city guides, taking you on a treasure hunt through our favourite metropolises in search for the best street and public art. If you’re exploring the capital and want to see what we currently have at the gallery, get in contact with us here to arrange a visit...
Possibly the capital’s most famous sculptural display, Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth is the perfect starting point for an art-fuelled wander. With seer-like foresight, Heather Phillipson called her Fourth Plinth sculpture ‘The End’ when she designed it back in 2016 (it’s an eerily apocalyptic rendering of an outsized ice cream complete with cherry, fly and drone). Devoid of the usual tourists, the square provides the perfect setting for the unsettling installation.
From here, walk north towards Soho where French artist Invader has peppered the maze of streets with his signature pixellated pieces. Fans used to flock to Carnaby Street to see a now-removed signature work, but there are still plenty of other pieces to seek out (our favourite is on Noel Street). If you want to play detective for a bit longer, divert to Covent Garden on the search for Tim Fishlock’s little ears (surreal casts of his own appendages, which you can spot on Floral Street).
If you’re popping into the newly-reopened shops of Oxford Street, be sure to seek out Barbara Hepworth’s Grade II-listed Winged Figure, a gigantic, six-metre sculpture which looms just above the John Lewis sign but is often missed among the chaos. Then make the leap from high art to a magical piece with its feet very much on the ground: Sacré Blue, a stained glass greenhouse created by horticultural installation artists Heywood and Condie, was only meant to be a temporary installation outside 25 Porchester Place (near Marble Arch) – but it’s so beautiful that it remains today. Catch it at dusk to see its multi-coloured panes in all their glory.
One of Tim Fishlock's cast ears spotted in Covent Garden
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Long a hotbed for street art, east London also has its fair share of public sculpture. Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit – the UK’s tallest public artwork – is a good place to start an art-related wander. Though you can’t currently slide through its serpent-like structure, it’s worth visiting the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park just to crane your neck at its immensity. From there, stroll to one of the capital’s newest public pieces, Thomas J Price’s Reaching Out: this nine-foot bronze of a woman looking at her phone is among only a handful of sculptures representing black women in the UK (look out for the artist’s sculpture commemorating the Windrush generation, which is slated to appear outside Hackney Town Hall later this year). Next, it’s time for something completely different – the street art of Clare Street. The works on display along this tiny Hackney alley are so good that it even has its own Instagram (@clare_street), displaying pieces by Nathan Bowen and wrdsmth. If you’re a Banksy fan, take a stroll from here to Pollard Street, a residential side street in Bethnal Green that’s home to a purported piece by the artist. The mural, which first appeared in 2007, shows a masked man with a roller painting a huge yellow flower – it’s now been tagged many times and is a bit worse for wear but still worth a look. Finish up with a final walk to Hoxton Square to see Stik’s four-metre sculpture of his signature figures holding hands. Unveiled in autumn 2020, the gigantic couple peacefully stand sentinel over visiting picnickers.
The purported Banksy mural which was painted in 2007 on Pollard Street
North Londoners might question why the graceful twists of Bernard Schottlander’s listed sculpture South of the River are incongruously plonked in front of an office block on a very busy road – but that’s this end of London for you, half-gentrified and half scrubby and all the better for it. Snap the art and inhale the fumes before beating a retreat to the South Bank where Frank Dobson’s London Pride sculpture has been sitting since 1987 (although it was first cast in 1951 as part of the festival of Britain). After the monochrome mid-century sculpture, Leake Street Tunnel is a rainbow-hued 21st-century assault on the senses, where every inch of space is filled with colourful street art. The tunnel is renowned as a place where artists can work without repercussions (as long as their work isn’t racist, sexist or advertising anything) and was the location of Banksy’s 2008 Cans Festival. Circle back along the South Bank and you’ll arrive at the Mayor’s Headquarters, More London. What was once Boris Johnson’s home from home is a surprising slice of art-filled riverside real estate, showcasing Fiona Banner’s tactile full-stops, Stephan Balkenhol’s giant-like wooden statues of a man and a woman and David Batchelor’s vivid, cartoon-esque tree, entitled Evergreen. From here, it’s a pleasant walk to Bermondsey’s most recent public artwork, Tanner Street Park’s Cornerstone, which is assembled from 100 carvings chiselled by local kids and adults during free workshops. The fragile piece looks like the remnants of a lost city.
Banksy's 'Cave Painting' at the heart of Cans Festival, 2008
Tristan Appleby via Flickr
Camden is the capital’s unofficial street art home, packed with colourful pieces with limited life cycles (in part due to the council’s zealous painting and decorating). But it’s a case of back to back rather than Back to Black here, as some of the borough’s most long-standing pieces are tributes to Amy Winehouse: see Mr Cenz’s superhero-esque rendition on Lidlington Place before traipsing a couple of blocks to find Bambi’s realistic homage, next to Andy’s Greek Taverna on Bayham Street. The stencil artist, who once described Banksy as ‘the male Bambi’ is one of North London’s big names, frequently stencilling Camden and Islington – her recent work Weapon of Voice on Islington’s Pickering Street is a tribute to the women of London which, despite being made in 2019, wears a very on-trend face mask. Beyond the beehive, you’ll find an ever-changing display of some of the capital’s best graffiti along Castlehaven Road and Hawley Road (we love the Onesto under Castlehaven Road’s railway bridge). Camden also makes an excellent start to a street-art spotting stroll along the Regent’s Canal Towpath – which, conveniently, leads right to our gallery, approximately 50 minutes away.
Mr Cenz's take on Amy Whinehouse on Lidlington Place
Duncan C via Flickr
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