Where in London can you find a giant squirrel, a psychedelic snail, pigs wearing lipstick, laughing skeletons and terrifying devils, all within a ten minute walk of each other? And if there is such a place, would it be suitable for the kids?
I’m pleased to report this weird and wonderful enclave does exist, in the form of the giant, open-air, top-to-bottom, end-to-end street gallery known as Shoreditch.
Having worked – and walked – around the area for years, this constantly evolving free art exhibition captivates and surprises me every day, inspiring me to take detours to see new walls, or spend an unplanned lunch hour discovering hidden gems down little-known back streets and alleyways.
Thinking about the wonder and adventure that a street art hunt can bring, I promised myself that next time, I would take the kids along too. And that is exactly what I did.
Hopping the Overground to Shoreditch High Street, the early signs weren’t too promising; ‘Can we just go home?’ said my four-year old as the weather turned and the drizzle began, just as we exited the station. The mood changed quickly, however, as they spotted a fence full of locks right next to the station entrance. The work not of street artists but dozens of tourists and visitors to the area, locking their love right here in the heart of the East End.
Curiosity suitably aroused, we turned onto Bethnal Green Road to find a shoal of brightly coloured fish swimming all over a wall, leading us onwards towards more beautifully colourful walls towards Brick Lane. The trail had begun.
Suddenly, we spotted a giant squirrel – the work of Roa, who has painted giant animals all over the area for years. We had no choice, we had to get a closer look, so we crossed the road to Club Row. I told the story of London’s famous animal market that was once located on this very road, selling everything from rare birds, fighting dogs to monkeys and big cats. And yes, probably large squirrels too.
The squirrel pointed us in the direction of Redchurch Street, so we headed on. It was at this point that I decided not to stick to the pre-planned route I had mapped out in my head. The kids were really beginning to enjoy the hunt, so it seemed more fun to make serendipitous discoveries as one piece of art led us to another.
One of the lovely things about street art is that scale has no bearing on the success and effect of the work. We were captivated by a line of ants climbing up a wall just as much as we were when faced with 30ft high walls of rainbow swirls.
We carried on for an hour more, exploring beautifully decorated Redchurch Street and the giant Eine lettering, crossing over Shoreditch High Street to Rivington Street, where dozens of magnificent murals awaited us, including some pigs in lipstick. Beautiful.
As the rain persisted to dampen our enthusiasm, we found ourselves on Hoxton Square, right next to the perfect place to warm up; The Breakfast Club. Welcoming us with a blockbusting brunch, the all-action American diner, with it’s mismatching furniture and funny decorative quirks, proved as captivating to the kids as the walls in the surrounding area.
After eating our fill of pancakes, and with my youngest snuggled down and dozing in her buggy, we left to find the weather had brightened up, and we decided to visit the nearby Shoreditch Farm, continuing to spot street art all the way. Shoreditch Farm is fantastic nearby trove of fun. We whiled away the afternoon exploring story sheds, bug houses and a tree house big enough for adults, as well as a host of farmyard favourites. No giant squirrels here though, I’m afraid to say.
Guest post by Mark Ellis
Mark’s street art tour explored the streets surrounding Shoreditch High Street Station. Various companies offer organised tours of street art in the area, fees ranging from pay what you like up to £25.